THE FATE of the tie had been sealed even the last time that Rohan Bopanna had played a singles match for India in the Davis Cup. It was 2012 and India had already taken an unassailable lead over Uzbekistan. Bopanna had overcome Sarvar Ikramov 6-2, 6-7, 6-1 on that occasion in a tightly fought contest. Sunday was equally challenging, but he showed that he can still eke out a comeback win over Hong Chung with the final score reading 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to set India well on their way to a cleansweep. Unfortunately and ironically, it was singles’ specialist Ramkumar Ramanathan who couldn’t follow through as he went down 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (2) to Korea’s playing captain, Yong Kyu Lim, in the fifth match to hand India a 4-1 overall victory.As Bopanna would reveal later in the day, he wasn’t even aware that he would have to turn back the clock and show up in his singles avatar when he woke up on Sunday. And it wasn’t just his movement in the court with which he surprised himself in his own confession.“I always enjoyed every time I played singles. But It has been a while since I played a singles match. The last time I played in singles was against Uzbekistan in 2012 and in a live rubber was in 2011. It took a while for me to get used to not only the movements or the court,” he said.“I do not know the last time I was slicing returns. I don’t think that I even did that. But today was the only option. I guess I surprised myself. Saketh called me at 8 in the morning and told that he cannot play today. So the only option was to come out and play,” added Bopanna.There were points of course during the match were Bopanna needed to look towards his camp for reassurance that he was indeed on the right track with his singles play. Midway in the seventh game of the second set, with the Korean well in front, he looked towards Leander Paes and non-playing captain Anand Amritraj. They seemed to signal towards him to play his variation shots. Then Bopanna settled down. He was trailing 2-4 in the second set with Chung just two games away from scoring a victory. Bopanna’s response was a rasping crosscout backhand, and it gave him the crucial break back to bring the set back on serve.He backed it up with three thunderous aces, one after the other, in the next game to bring the second set back to parity. The 30-year-old was suddenly in his element. And he wasn’t looking back.Obvious rustinessBut his rustiness was obvious at the start of the contest. Bopanna’s eight aces in the first set did show that he carried his serving form from the doubles encounter, but with him winning only one point out of 10 first serves, Chung had the early advantage in the match. Some of those points came when Bopanna’s cross shots landed in the alley zone enabling the doubles’ specialist to win 18 points as compared to 27 points won by Chung in the first set.Bopanna also was guilty of making six doubles faults in the first set. But from the point he broke back in the second, he took charge of proceedings. He also gave away only three points out of 15 second serve points to world number 655 Chung in 20 games to win the second and third sets. Out of 31 points won in the final set for Bopanna, 11 were aces as he continued to show off his serving prowess, and why it will play such a big role when he returns to his more natural doubles avatar in the company of Paes in Rio next month.“The main reason (for starting slowly in the contest) was that I was serving too many double faults. Chung was not doing so much on return. Once I got that break, the momentum changed. Once I got that break, the momentum changed and made him serve and volley which Chung was not comfortable with. I have not been playing singles on the tour for long. For me to come even once in a while is tough. I was aiming for alleys and my instincts automatically drove me to hit the ball there,” Bopanna would say after the match.Then playing for pride, world number 626, Lim, ensured that the Koreans didn’t return home empty-handed against Ramanathan, who was playing in only his second singles Davis Cup match. In a match, which lasted for two hours and eight minutes, first serve made the difference for Lim as he went on to win 51 points as compared to 43 points won by Ramkumar in the match.
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