Friday, February 24, 2017

Davis Cup: Singles stars bring double joy for India

India’s Yuki Bhambri (left) and Ramkumar Ramnathan execute identical forehand returns to NZ’s Finn Tearney and Jose Statham during their respective Davis Cup singles ties at the Balewadi Sports Complex yesterday. Pic/AFP

Pune: “It’s a dream start. I couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” said a beaming captain Anand Amritraj after India stormed to a 2-0 lead against New Zealand on the opening day of the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group 1 round 1 tie at the Balewadi tennis stadium.

Yuki Bhambri opened proceedings with a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 win over Finn Tearney and later Ramkumar doubled India’s advantage as he rode a big serve to dismantle Jose Statham 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

Yuki was not at his fluent best. He did hit forehand winners but he also overhit his forehand. However, once he settled into a rhythm, he didn’t look back. Tearney made a number of errors as he was unable to force the pace against the Indian.

“I figured out a plan as initially I didn’t start well. However once the match wore on I went from strength to strength. I won in straight sets. I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said a delighted Yuki.

Ramkumar used his biggest weapon, his serve, to maximum effect, as he sent down 15 aces in his commanding win over Jose Statham. The only worrying aspect were his eight double faults, but the lanky Indian won plenty of points on his serve, at times clocking 206 kmph.

Ramkumar also opened up the court nicely with booming forehands. He also volleyed to good effect. Statham was a bit too negative in his play and also committed a number of unforced errors.

Anand Amritraj was extremely impressed by the hustle shown by Ramkumar. “He chased down a lot of balls.”

Ramkumar attributes his improved mobility to a two-week stint at the Emilio Sanchez-Sergio Casal academy in Florida. “They made me do a lot of drills and the long training stints helped me immensely.”

It’s now over to the doubles and to see if Leander Paes can seal the deal with a record win on Saturday. Paes and Vishnu Vardhan take on a higher ranked Artem Sitak and Michael Venus.

‘Silence please, kids’
The city of Pune has had to endure a long wait for the Davis Cup, and the organisers of the India vs NZ fixture have left no stone unturned for this important event. They would’ve been happy with the decent turnout on Day 1 yesterday. A bunch of school kids in bright red blazers were the most vociferous as they kept screaming, “India, India.” At one point, the chair umpire was forced to tell the lads to please be silent during rallies.

Let’s ‘stand’ for the stars
The organisers of the India-NZ Davis Cup tie named the stands at the Balewadi Stadium here after the city’s legendary players. So, there’s the Nandan Bal stand, the Gaurav Natekar stand, Sashi Menon stand, Sandeep and Nitin Kirtane stands. It was nice to see former India Davis Cupper, Menon at the toss before Yuki Bhambri’s match. Menon scripted many famous wins for India with the Amritraj brothers (Vijay and Anand) in the 1970s.

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