Yuki Bhambri asserted his class over a promising Arjun Kadhe even as young Sumit Nagal’s ATP World Tour debut ended in a tame defeat at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune on Tuesday.
Bhambri, country’s top-ranked singles players, outplayed wild card and local boy Kadhe 6-3, 6–4 in the opening round of the event. He will now fight it out with eighth seed Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who battled past Marco Cecchinato 7-6(4), 6-7(2), 6-2 in a gruelling season-opener.
Kadhe had nothing to lose and went for his shots but uncontrolled aggression did not trouble the Delhi lad. Bhambri maintained a tight control over the proceedings with his superior game. He returned everything Kadhe threw at him and found some superb winners.
Bhambri, ranked 118, broke Kadhe in the third game only to drop his own serve in the next but wrested back the initiative with another break in the fifth.
The fearless approach of Kadhe, who returned to Pro circuit after doing graduation from University of Oklahoma only this year, though was appreciated by local fans who kept chanting his name in the battle between the two Indians.
Kadhe packed a lot of power in his backhand but Bhambri did not give him many short balls to take advantage.
In the entire first set, Bhambri lost only four points on his serve. Kadhe, serving to stay in the set, served three double faults in the ninth game and handed the set to his rival by hitting a forehand long on the second set point.
In the second set, it was Kadhe who got the first break in the third game but Bhambri made it even-steven by getting back the break immediately. Kadhe needed something extraordinary to turn the tide. He had strokes and the heart to fight but lacked experience.
For the record, it was Bhambri's 11th win in a row at this venue, having won the Challenger event in 2015 and 2017.
Nagal’s unbeaten streak of seven matches was halted by fellow qualifier Ilya Ivashka as the Indian bowed out with a 3-6, 3-6 defeat in his first round.
Nagal, ranked 223, came into the match after winning the Bengaluru Open and two qualifying matches here for his maiden ATP World Tour event. He struggled to contain unforced errors against the Belarusian, placed seven places below him.
Earlier, there were no easy points for Nagal as Ivashka not only played aggressive but had good control over his strokes. His measured game meant that there were not many unforced errors, forcing Nagal to rethink his strategy.
Realising that the only trouble Ivashka was having was in tackling high bounce, Nagal tried to feed such balls consistently but the Belarusian was up to the task and raced to a 4-1 lead following a break of serve in the fourth game.
Ivashka kept Nagal under the pump by moving him on the court side to side with his superior stroke-play.
Serving to stay in the set, Nagal was up 30-0 but a flurry of unforced errors, including a double fault, meant that he was soon facing a set point. He managed to save that but unrelenting Ivashka closed the set in his favour by serving the next game at love.
Nagal tried very hard but could not find a way to overcome his opponent. He lost serve in the very first game of the second set when he hit a forehand wide.
While Ivashka maintained the intensity, Nagal was again facing a point in the third game. Desperate to save the point, he even argued with the chair umpire who overruled the wrong call from a lines’ umpire and asked to replay the point.
Nagal did save that point but was soon facing another. Egged on by the little crowd, the 20-year-old Haryana lad finally got on board.
Trailing by a set and a break, Nagal did not do any good to his cause by dropping serve in the fifth. The match was as good as over however Ivashka dropped serve while serving for the match.
Nagal’s struggle to put the ball inside the lines continued and was down 0-40, facing three match points. He lost with a double fault on the first.
It was second meeting between 20-year-old Nagal and Ivashka with the Indian losing the first match at the same venue during the 2015 Challenger event.
In other singles matches of the day, fifth seed Ribin Haase overcame a stiff resistance from Blaz Kavcic 7-6(6), 7-5 while Laslo Djere bounced back to beat Marius Copil 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.
Jeevan stands out as he and Bopanna beat Paes-Raja pair
Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan's remarkable progress as a doubles player came to fore as he and Rohan Bopanna began the defence of their title by knocking out Leander Paes and Purav Raja at the Tata Open Maharashtra.
The left-hander from Chennai, the youngest of all four at 29, came out firing on all cylinders as they beat their unseeded rivals 6-3, 6-2 to progress to the quarterfinals.
Jeevan, now ranked 102, stood out with his well-calculated lobs and precise strokeplay, making a huge difference to the outcome of the match. In the second set he lost only one point on his serve.
In contrast, Raja could not hold his serve even once in the entire match while Paes did his bit but that was never enough.
The pressure was straightaway on Paes-Raja pair as the latter dropped serve in the fourth game. However, they got the break back when Bopanna served in the next.
Raja played some excellent dropped shots even as Jeevan impressed with his superb precision. He also served his game at love in the seventh.