Leander Paes yet again turned the clock back in company of Rohan Bopanna as the Indian duo recorded a dramatic come-from-behind 1-6, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 8-6 win over Serbian pair of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac to keep home team's chances alive in the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie in Bangalore on Saturday.
It was yet another brilliant Davis Cup show by Leander against a Serbian pair, who had the distinction of beating the legendary Bryan brothers in Davis Cup last season.
India were down by two sets and a break in the third and the tie was heavily tilted in the favour of the 2010 champions but things changed dramatically for India from the sixth game of that set, soon after Zimonjic needed a timeout for a back niggle.
There was no stopping the Indians after they managed to break Zimonjic
Bopanna started to explode with his bazooka serves and Paes was at his athletic best playing his customary 'chip and charge' game with immaculate anticipation as they were cheered by a partisan crowd of 5000 this evening.
The turnaround happened after Bopanna initially struggled to serve to his strength and keeping the ball inside the court.
Paes' magic was nowhere to be seen as the Serbians were cruising for a straight-set win.
There was no stopping the Indians after they managed to break Zimonjic in the sixth game of the third set. The Serbians crumbled as the crowd went behind the team with defeaning cheers, a situation in which Paes thrives and his magic rubs on.
The ball speed improved as the match progressed and it helped the Indians in a big way. As the balls grew old and balls started to travel at a better speed, Paes and Bopanna found their mojo back. The stinging serves were in, strokes precise and emotion on a high while the Serbians felt the heat on a cool and pleasant evening.
India need to win both the singles to enter the World Group
Bojoljac, only player under-30 of the four on court, stood out with his big service game in the match and rode the team on his back in the gruelling fight.
He did not wither under pressure and kept the team in the hunt until Zimonjic's forehand went long on India's first match point while serving at 6-7 in the fifth set.
Now India need to win both the singles to enter the World Group for the next season. Somdev Devvarman will take on Dusan Lajovic while Yuki Bhambri will clash with Filip Ktajonovic in the fifth rubber.
Playing a Davis Cup tie only third time together and for the first time in India, Paes and Bopanna initially found the going tough as they lost the first set in a jiffy. The Serbians ran away with lead in just 18 minutes as both Paes and Bopanna struggled with their serves.
Paes could win only two points on his serve in the opening set while his compatriot struggled with precision, sending a lot of backhands out.
The Serbians returned extremely well and capitalized on the cracks they found in the game of the host players. Paes lost his serve when he double faulted down at 0-40 in the third game.
Bopanna was expected to serve well to feed an ever-agile Paes at the net but Serbians never let that happen in the initial sets.
Service quality of Bojoljac proved to be a big factor in the outcome. Whenever the visitors found themselves in crunch situations, he bailed the team out.
Indians came out firing
After losing the first set, Indians came out firing, egged on by a loud and cheering crowd. Zimonjic was broken in the third game at love when the Serbian committed a double fault. India were now up 2-1 and consolidated the lead with Paes holding serve for the first time.
The hosts were set to further dent the visitors as Bozoljac was down a break point after netting a volley. However the Serb shifted the gears under pressure, firing three consecutive service winners to deny India a cushion. India surrendered the advantage of the early break when
Paes dropped his serve in the eighth game, making it 4-4.
Again Bopanna who could not keep control over the ball, which flew over the lines.
India had another chance to get the break back and serve out the set when Paes hit a winner to go up 40-30 on Zimonjic's serve but Bopanna’s return could not cross the net. Zimonjic fired the sixth ace of the team to yet again deny India.
Bozoljac's serve and returns made a huge difference
The set eventually was stretched to the tie-breaker in which again it was Bozoljac's serve and returns made a huge difference even as Indians paid the price for free-flowing errors.
After India got a break in the sixth game of third set, Bojoljac came up with a rare poor service game in the eighth and was quickly down 15-40 and Paes smashed a service winner to be ready to serve out the set.
The sudden shift in momentum had the crowd going, reserves Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Saketh Myneni and physio Yash Pandey took turns to wave the flag, inspiring the crowd cheer more loud.
Breaking Zimonjic in the first game of the fourth set was what India needed to put more pressure on the Serbians, who were now breaking under the pressure.
Before the start of the tie, Rohan Bopanna received the 'David Cup Commitment' award for completing his 20th tie – a must to get the distinction from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).