Novak Djokovic can heave a sigh of relief. The Serbians, without the world’s no.1 player, looked vulnerable even against the weak Indian team, which has strength only in doubles matches. The Serbians pulled off the much required win in the world-group play-off tie, the last match of which could be completed only on Monday. With India being relegated to the Asia/Oceania zone in the 2015 season, it will be like starting all over again. But the Bangalore tie had its moments, especially in the first reverse singles on Sunday evening, when Somdev Devvarman pulled off a five-set victory against Dusan Lajovic to leave Yuki Bhambri with an arduous task of beating Filip Kranjinovic in the deciding singles match. But Bhambri failed and so did India. The result means that India will now again fight it out in Asia/Oceania zone in the 2015 season.
For some years now, tennis culture in India has been motivated by two veterans; Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathy with Rohan Bopanna joining the bandwagon lately. The current breed of youngsters have their eyes fixated on monetary gains, accruing from participation in doubles, where qualifying is easier. The offshoot of such thinking has the dangerous portents of Indians not taking the singles matches with any degree of seriousness. India’s no.1 player is ranked 144th in the world and couldn’t even qualify in the recently concluded US open. On the other hand, several pairs of tennis players are able to enter the doubles tournaments, where even the early round victories can make money for them. Paes, Bhupathy, Bopanna and Bhambri are only playing doubles and watching them reap riches, the younger lot can only emulate them. In women’s circuit, Sania Mirza has also stopped competing in singles but has a formidable presence in doubles in WTA tournaments. Somdev is the lone Indian playing in singles but he is already nearing 30. Unless something is done soon, the tennis scene in India will be similar to that exists in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; a far cry from the days of Krishnans, Vijay Amritraj and the early years of Paes and Bhupathy.
In the Serbia-India tie, the first day belonged to Serbia as they took a vital 2-0 lead, winning both singles. World no.61 Dusan Lajovic defeated Yuki Bhambri 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 in the first match and despite Somdev stretching world no. 107 Filip Kranjinovic to four sets in the second singles, he lost the match 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 1-6. In the doubles match next day, Paes and Bopanna beat Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic 1-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 8-6. With their high doubles ATP ranking, it was surprising why the Indians took five sets for victory. But India benefitted and needed to win both the reverse singles to turn the tables on Serbia in Sunday’s matches. Somdev did India proud as he fought valiantly against Dusan Lajovic. Much to the delight of the Bangalore crowd, Somdev’s 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory brought India to within one match for chance to enter the World Group. The second match was interrupted due to rains and could only be completed on Monday. Expectations ran high as Yuki Bhambri took to court against Kranjinovic. Ranked 153 in the world, Bhambri was no match for the Serbian, who himself does not rank highly in his own country. In a straight set win Kranjinovic easily disposed of the erring Bhambri 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Committing 66 unforced errors to Kranjinovic’s 38, Bhambri killed his own cause as India lost the tie 2-3.
When the Serbians arrived in India, they were branded inexperienced. This perception raised the Indian hopes of upsetting the nation that is ranked No.2 in the world. But hoping alone is not enough unless the possibility could be translated to one’s advantage. That didn’t happen as the Serbs went home with the victory in their bag, leaving the Indians only with a solace of taking the tie to its last singles match.