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Bopanna is India's hero

Kunal Diwan

Devvarman sets the stage for a famous win

— PHOTO: PTI

REDEMPTION:Rohan Bopanna overcame the crushing disappointment of Friday's loss to win the fifth rubber and, with it, the tie for India.

CHENNAI: History was made at the SDAT Tennis Stadium on Sunday as India won both its reverse singles matches, effecting a 3-2 turnaround in its Davis Cup World Group play-off against Brazil. The win marked the first occasion of India rallying from a 0-2 deficit to claim a tie since its competition debut in 1921.

With the host required to win both the reverse singles to retain its World Group slot, Rohan Bopanna dismissed Ricardo Mello in straight sets for a decisive victory, after Somdev Devvarman conspired with the heat to win by default against Thomaz Bellucci, who retired from their match due to exhaustion.

Raucous crowd support

The tie flush on 2-2, the 30-year-old Bopanna rode an acoustic crest to victory as a raucous crowd shouted itself hoarse.

Bopanna's ploy was simple — ensuring that he held his serve and pressurising the Brazilian in the return games. He dismantled Mello's serve in the fourth game of the opening set, preserving the advantage to close it 6-3.

Neither player was broken in the second set — Bopanna saved two set-points at 4-5, 15-40 — which headed into the inescapable lottery of a tie-break. Boppana cracked open a mini-break to go up 2-1 and lined up four consecutive points from 3-2 to 7-2 to pocket the second set.

His energy levels depleting, Mello was a pale shadow of the gutsy counter-puncher who had taken out Devvarman in five sets on Friday.

In the third set, he was broken in the fourth game and appeared affected by the tonal belligerence originating principally from a highly-partisan media enclosure.

A couple of casual shots in the seventh game saw Bopanna staring at double break point, but he wriggled out of the mess, saved another breakpoint with a backhand punch and held for 5-2 with a scorching second serve winner.

Mello escaped two match-points on his serve and held for 5-3, but only delayed the inevitable as Bopanna finished things in style, winning the third set 6-3 to hand India a famous result.

Bopanna overwhelmed Mello in all departments, slamming 16 aces to five and plastering 52 winners to the Brazilian's 26.

Completely drained

Earlier, Bellucci threw in the towel trailing 0-4 in the second set, having lost the first in a tie-breaker.

The trouble for the Brazilian started in the 'breaker, exacerbating in the second set as the Indian reeled off four games in a row. By then, Bellucci had had enough and decided to concede the match, disappointment written all over his face.

“I was feeling very weak. By the time the second set started I was completely drained. I don't know why it happened. I was fine last night,” he said.

To be fair, Devvarman appeared the better player through the duration of the encounter. He did not face a single breakpoint and had three points on Bellucci's serve at 4-4 in the first set. The Brazilian saved them all, but it was clear by now that he was struggling, going for drop shots with such an alarming frequency that the stratagem was deprived of its element of surprise.

If Bellucci did not sink his attempted drops in the net, Devvarman ran them down, slamming winners past the distraught Brazilian.

Devvarman ran up a 6-2 lead in the breaker, giving himself four points for the set. Bellucci saved one, but overdid a forehand swipe that landed a foot long of the baseline, giving the Indian the set.

The second set, whatever little was played of it, was a no-contest.

Devvarman racked up a double break to go up 4-0 before Bellucci conceded.

“My strategy was to be aggressive but also keep the points long. I have a tendency to get pushed around by bigger players. But today I did not stand too far back behind the baseline. It was more of an attitude change than anything else,” said Devvarman.

Asked if Bellucci's retirement deprived the result of its sheen, Devvarman said: “No. I've had enough losses this year. People don't realise how hard it is to win.”

The results: India bt Brazil 3-2 [Somdev Devvarman bt Thomaz Bellucci 7-6(3), 4-0 retired; Rohan Bopanna bt Ricardo Mello 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3] .

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