India, Uzbekistan share honours on day one


New Delhi : India and Uzbekistan were 1-1, sharing the opening day’s singles in the Asia-Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie here at the R. K. Khanna Stadium Friday.

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Rohan Bopanna put India in the lead by beating Farrukh Dustov 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in 73 minutes on a cold blustery morning and then Somdev Varman showed sparks of potential before going down to Denis Istomin, the highest-ranked player in the tie at 184, in straight sets 3-6, 4-6, 1-6, to even out things.

Non-playing captain Leander Paes’ decision to play Somdev Dev may have backfired, but the debutant did look the part of the stage to start with, though he could not capitalise on the chances he got in the baseline slugfest. He certainly looked a sure bet in the immediate future.

The Somdev-Istomin clash was on the expected lines as both looked solid hitters from the backcourt and in the end the Uzbek’s consistency and the India’s inability to seize the opportunities made the difference. Istomin has indeed improved his grass-court play since he last played in India and his experience as a journeyman, too, helped him in playing key points.

Istomin needed just one break to take the first set and that came in the sixth game. The second set began disastrously as Somdev was broken in the first game, but he broke back immediately to even the matters. He looked the best in the set as he engaged the Uzbek in long rallies. He, however, could not finish the points as he missed attacking short balls. He could have done well with charging the net.

The decisive break of the set came in the fifth game and thereafter Istomin only had to hold his serve and that he did comfortably to take the second set. Down two sets, the US-based Tripura boy lost the nerve and by now Istomin was hitting winners from all angles.

Boppana was more business-like against Dustov and was on top righ through the match. His big serve and good volleying gave little chance to the Uzbek.

The 288th ranked Indian seized the initiative straightaway by breaking Dustov in the sixth game of the first set and the Uzbek seen struggling to play a catching-up game. His unforced errors kept mounting as Bopanna hammered away to take the second set, again with an early break.

Dustov clearly showed that grass is not a surface of his liking and the uneven bounce did not help matters either as Bopanna careened around the court to pick everything within his reach. The Indian was in total command and the third set turned out to be a no-contest, the Uzbek holding his serve only once.

With the tie score 1-1, Leander will not risk playing Prakash in the doubles as he might be needed to play the last singles on Monday. So, Bopanna will go out with Mahesh Bhupathi in the doubles on Saturday.

In any case, Bopanna’s credentials as a doubles player are far better and he had been doing well on the circuit. Now it is a must-win situation for India to go 2-1 up before the final day’s singles.