Rafael Nadal came to the party just when it mattered most as he partnered Marc Lopez scripting a decisive win against Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni giving Spain an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Davis Cup Play-off tie against India in New Delhi on Saturday.
Paes and Saketh Myneni, combining for the first time in Davis Cup, lost 6-4 6-7(2) 4-6 4-6 but not without a brave fight that tested the Rio Olympic gold medallist pair for three hours and 23 minutes in the must-win rubber. The defeat also prolonged the Indian legend’s wait for the world record wins Davis Cup.
The Indian team was up by a set and a break but the Spaniards worked their way back aided by some game-changing errors by Myneni. It was the only match where the Spanish Armada could have faced some resistance and they did.
Playing his 54th tie, Leander Paes was eyeing a record of most number of doubles wins in the Cup history. He remains tied with Italian giant Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 wins.
“I will get it soon, I promise,” said Paes after the match.
It was purely Nadal’s prowess from the baseline as well as agility that negated the magic of Paes from the net.
Spain will now be back in the World Group after more than two years while India remain in the Asia/Oceania zone.
Myneni served well throughout, losing only 18 points on his serve in the entire match but a judgement error in the 10th game of the second set when he decided to go for a drop instead of killing the ball, cost India dear.
From there the momentum was lost as he also fumbled in the tie-break of the second set, making three consecutive errors, and that was enough Spaniards to claw their way back.
Nadal was brilliant from the back of the court and it was he who kept Spain fighting with Indians targeting Lopez.
It seemed like a good combination in making for India as Myeni supported Paes very well in the match.
The match began with high quality service games and with Nadal, Myneni and Lopez not losing a single point.
Paes though was broken in his very first service game with both the Indians committing unforced errors. Myneni netted an overhead volley to hand the Spaniards first break.
The visitors lost first point on their serve in the sixth when Myneni hit a service return forehand winner off Nadal.
The Indians though made a tremendous comeback by breaking first Lopez and then Nadal to lead 5-4.
The magical hands of Paes were at work with the veteran Indians finding the gaps with his backhand slices and volleys as his game complimented that of big-serving Myneni.
At 4-4, Nadal had lost only one point on his serve but lost four in the ninth game to drop serve. After losing first break chance, Paes won a net battle with Lopez to earn team’s second chance and then found another winner to seal the crucial break.
Myneni served out the set with Paes hitting another backhand volley winner.
Myneni served solid, losing only four points on his serve and three of those were in the 10th game when he was serving for the set and that was key for India.
India drew the first blood in the second set by breaking Lopez in the third game. The Spaniard was up 40-15 but the Indians took the next three point with Myneni hitting a backhand cross court winner to pocket the break.
Paes held in the fourth, giving India a 3-1 lead. The accuracy of Paes’ drop shots was a sight to watch. The break stayed with India, giving Myneni to serve out the set but he was broken in the 10th.
Nadal’s fierce service return winner and Myneni’s volley error handed Spian two chances. The Indian saved first with an ace but a poor decision to go for a drop shot instead of killing ball cost the hosts. The drop shot did not have enough trajectory and force to cross the net.
It made the score 5-5 and a hold by Lopez meant that Paes was now serving to stay in the second set. The veteran did not disappoint, forcing a tie-breaker.
Myneni, who was solid till now, though played his worse on the first three points as India trailed 0-3. The tall Vizag lad failed to out away an easy overhead volley and also could not pick up a half-volley that also kissed the net.
In no time it became 5-0 in Spain’s favour and Nadal made it 1-1 with a forehand that came like a rocket towards Myneni but the Indian just about managed from being hit on the face.
Paes dropped serve in the third game to give visitors advantage in the third set. The lead stayed with the Spaniards, who forged ahead 2-1 with Nadal serving out the set with an easy forehand winner in the 10th.
Nadal dropped serve at love with a double fault in the second game of the third set as Paes produced some exceptional returns in that game.
With Saketh holding, India were up 3-0. Paes saved two break chances in the fifth to help hosts take a handsome 4-1 lead.
India though lost the edge with Myneni dropping serve in the seventh game, the longest of the match as he served two double faults. It was back on serve.
Nadal’s super-strokes had the Indians gasping in the ninth game, served by Paes. The champion player found un-returnable angles to put himself in a position to serve out the tie in the next game and he did.