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Bopanna goes down in a thriller

Last updated on: September 26, 2007 12:31 IST

Almost there, but not quite.

Indian Davis Cupper Rohan Bopanna, on Tuesday night, added another chapter to this Indian syndrome in sports; friend and doubles partner Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan proving it was not only limited to the political boundary between the two neighbours.

- Kiefer upsets third seed Mathieu

Bopanna had fought back from a break down, and was leading 4-3 in the third set when there was another brief rain interruption during his first round match against Nicolas Devilder at the Mumbai Open. The 27-year-old had been nothing less than impressive, firing down aces at will and matching his French opponent from the baseline.

"I believe Rohan is only two games away from victory," said Qureshi on live TV during the rain break.

The Indian ran much closer. He was just a point away from victory; thrice. And yet he went down fighting. The scoreboard said Bopanna lost to Devilder 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(9); the Indian, wrapped a towel around his face, and sat solemnly under the dark skies for what seemed like an eternity, trying to replay the points where he lost it.

The small but vocal crowd, including Mahesh Bhupathi and some of his Cup teammates, were stunned into silence as Bopanna's backhand slammed hard into the net. Too many close defeats, too many times.

"I have won a few close matches too," Bopanna had said before the start of the tournament. "It's just that people tend to not remember the close matches because you automatically jump on to the next round result."

For the time-being though the heart-breaking loss will rankle. He had won the first set and was looking strong to finish the match in two, was the better player for most of the third set and was even 4-1 up in the tie-break. But one fluffed volley, one casual shot somewhere and all the good work was undone.

His opponent, ranked more than 100 places above him, was no mug. He came up with that unreturnable serve, the powerful winner when it mattered most. Down 15-40 in the 10th game, the match looked sealed in Bopanna's favour, but Devilder managed to sneak out of the hole.

Earlier, Qureshi had given a glimpse of this weakness -- of not being able to win despite being in winning positions. He squandered four break points in the second set and lost 2-6, 6-7 (4) to Serbia's Viktor Troicki.

The first set was a quick affair, the Pakistani, playing his first singles match since pulling out of the US Open due to an elbow injury, was struggling with his biggest weapon—his serve. As he stubbornly stuck to his serve and volley tactics, the Serbian had little trouble passing him.

And yet he was on the verge of revenging the double break and pocket the second set. He was the stronger player; the humid conditions and noisy surrounding was starting to rattle Troicki. Leading 4-1 and with three break opportunities in the sixth game, Qureshi should have hunted his opponent down and at least stretched the match in the third set.

But once Troicki saved all the handful break points in the game, inexplicably Qureshi let the guard drop and was broken at love in the very next game. The players held on till the tie-break, which Trocki, with his superior baseline play, won at 7-4.

No one could fault either Bopanna or Qureshi for effort. Playing on the big ATP stage amidst an almost home crowd, the players were pumped to give their best. Only it came up short when it mattered the most.

They have the heart to fight, they need a mind to win; consistently.

Singles - First Round
[WC] N Kiefer (GER) d [3] Pual-Henri Mathieu (FRA) 64 63
[5] F Santoro (FRA) d E Roger-Vasselin (FRA) 61 62
R Schuettler (GER) d [7] J Benneteau (FRA) 75 63
V Troicki (SRB) d A Qureshi (PAK) 62 76(4)
Y Lu (TPE) d J Vanek (CZE) 46 75 64
N Devilder (FRA) d [WC] R Bopanna (IND) 36 63 76(9) - Saved 3 M.P.
[4] J Nieminen (FIN) d [Q]D Sanguinetti (ITA) 67(5) 61 20 ret. (fatigue)
[Q}T Matsui (JPN) d [Q]N Singh (IND) 64 76
F Fognini (ITA) leads [WC] S Dev Varman (IND) 63 03 postponed due to rain

Doubles - First Round
L Burgsmuller (GER) / O Rochus (BEL) d A Davidson (USA) / R Gajjar (IND) 61 63
I Navarro (ESP) / S Roitman (ARG) d [2] F Cermak (CZE) / L Friedl (CZE) 76(3) 64
P Briaud (USA) / W Moodie (RSA) vs Y Lu (TPE) / J Vanek (CZE) postponed due to rain

Deepti Patwardhan