Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tough luck, Leander Paes

India’s Leander Paes (left) and Vishnu Vardhan during the Davis Cup doubles match against Artem Sitak and Michael Venus of New Zealand in Pune on Saturday. Pic/AFP,AP

Pune: It was supposed to be Leander Paes’ epoch-making day. Instead, New Zealand’s Michael Venus and Artem Sitak crashed the party by winning the doubles 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 in the Asia Oceania Davis Cup Round One tie at the Balewadi Stadium on Saturday. Paes will now have to wait for the next tie to set the record of 43 Davis Cup doubles wins.

It was always going to be a tough ask for the Indians. New Zealand’s best chance was in the doubles. Venus is ranked World No. 36 while Sitak is No. 56.

The Indians got off to a good start. Paes made some good interceptions at the net and Vardhan served big. They broke Sitak’s serve and went on to clinch the set.

NZ’s Artem Sitak (left) and Michael Venus are ecstatic after their win on Saturday.

Venus and Sitak started combining well in the second set. Venus served huge and Sitak made fine returns. They broke Paes’ serve and went on to make it one set all.

The third was a fierce contest. It took a tie-breaker to separate the teams. Paes struck a volley long and Sitak’s superb volley winner helped them clinch the tie-break 8-6.

The Kiwi duo broke Vardhan’s serve early in the fourth and didn’t look back thereafter. Venus struck power-packed serves and Sitak was a fortress at the net as they closed out the match.

“It was a very tough contest. For a set and a half we played good tennis. We started playing safe on our returns. The returns let us down today,” said Paes.

“Yes we had more chances, but they took their chances better,” added the doubles maestro. “I feel proud of Vishnu. He played his heart out. It’s not easy as he came to Pune just 48 hours back.’

Saketh Myneni, Paes’ original doubles partner pulled out due to injury.

Paes added that he will play the next tie as the doubles record is important for the country. The New Zealanders were delighted with the doubles rubber victory. “We knew it would be tough as Leander was trying to set the record. They played well in the first set. Thereafter, the boys played superb tennis. The big crowd was noisy and behind the Indians so they were very difficult conditions,” said New Zealand captain Alistair Hunt. He hinted that Michael Venus may play in the reverse singles depending on how fit he is after Saturday’s contest.

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