Islamabad | India blunted Pakistan's challenge on the opening day to take a 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup World Group I play-off tie with Ramkumar Ramanathan and N Sriram Balaji rising to the occasion in the high-pressure contest, here Saturday.
A fired-up Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi gave his all in a tight opening singles but the intensity of the match and tough conditions took a toll on him as he suffered a hamstring injury in the third set, which prevented a close finish to a hard-fought contest.
Ramkumar served extremely well in the match and also returned better in the second set to prevail 6-7 (3) 7-6 (4), 6-0 while 43-year-old Aisam served 10 double faults in the match, going for broke.
Ramkumar's strong serving and percentage tennis was key to the outcome of the match. He served nine games at love, keeping the points short and crisp.
Down by a set, Ramkumar wriggled out of a tough situation when serving at 3-4, he was down 15-40 and never looked back in the match in which he fired 20 aces.
Balaji, a doubles specialist, was challenged by Aqeel Khan, but the Indian defeated the veteran Pakistani 7-5, 6-3 in the rain-hit second singles.
Balaji had a grip over the match. He broke Aqeel once in both the sets. His movement, strong serve, use of drop shots all came together for a comfortable win in the end.
India are one win away from advancing to the World Group I.
Yuki Bhambri and Saketh Myneni will now look to seal the tie on Sunday when they take on Muzammil Murtaza and Barkat Ullah in the third match.
The freezing cold made the conditions challenging for the players.
Pakistan have always punched above their weight in home conditions on grass courts but India was well-equipped to respond to the challenge.
“This will go down as a special win for me given we are in Pakistan. It is not easy to win away,” Ramkumar said after the win.
“It (grass courts) suits my game style the way I play. It is one of my favourite surfaces. I adapted really well. Aisam slowed down the game while serving. It was not easy but I was all pumped up,” he said.
Aisam said he gave his 100 percent in the match. “It was really cold, making the balls heavy. I did not make many mistakes when I had breakpoints in the second set. He served well, one on 'T' and had two volleys. He gets credit for that,” said Aisam.
“In tie-breaker also, he came up with goods, but I did not make many errors. Then I started feeling pain in my groin and it spread to my thigh.
That slowed me down and also my focus shifted to pain. Ramkumar started to serve better. But I feel proud, I played hard,” he said.
Ramkumar quickly overcame the initial jitters to serve out the opening game at love with an ace.
Points were long when Aisam served but when the home favourite hit a backhand service return winner on Ramkumar's serve in the third game, it was clear that the match was on.
Ramkumar, though, served extremely well. He had fired five aces in his first three service games, closing the fifth for a hold with his third ace of the game.
Aisam charged the net often and also used drop shots very effectively.
The Pakistani had served three double faults but he came back strong in following points to stay unhurt.
Ramkumar served five games at love in the opening set which was eventually settled in tie-breaker, in which Aisam raced to a 3-0 lead with a break of serve on the first point when Ramkumar hit a forehand wide.
Aisam held his serves on the following points. A forehand lob from Ramkumar that went long gave Aisam his first set-point and he converted that with an ace and let out a roar.
Ramkumar got the kind of start he needed in the second set as the Indian reeled off eight straight points to go a break up as Aisam dropped serve at love.
Ramkumar, though, squandered the opportunity to further build pressure by dropping his serve in game four.
Aisam produced some stunning backhand shots. The one that stood out was a service return winner while he was down 30-40.
He got breakpoint with a screaming backhand passing winner and Ramkumar buckled under pressure by hitting a forehand wide.
Egged on by his family and home fans, Aisam held the game easily for a 3-2 lead.
In game eight, Ram saved two breakpoints. Again it was Aisam’s service return winner that earned him two breakpoints. Ramkumar saved both with some good serving.
In a repeat of the first set, it all boiled down to tie-breaker and this time it was the Indian who got the break on the first point by hitting a service return winner.
In no time Ramkumar zoomed to a 4-0 lead and soon had five set points. Aisam saved the first four but Ramkumar nailed it on the fifth with an ace.
Ramkumar drew the first blood in the third set, breaking Aisam in the second game. He attacked Aisam's service with his forehands.
Aisam was up 40-15, but Ramkumar hit a passing backhand winner and followed that up with another winner to make it deuce.
Ram found a service return winner to earn a break point and Aisam served a double fault to help his rival.
Aisam was now struggling and took a medical time out to treat his groin and hamstring.
Ramkumar just ran away with the match after that, finishing off with an easy backhand drop shot.