Rio champs edge hosts in game of nerves
NEW DELHI: “Finally, Rafael Nadal in the flesh, who cares if it’s in doubles!” This was, possibly, the prevailing thought on everyone’s mind, from the national association to patrons, as the Spanish superstar made his belated debut at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium for the Davis Cup World Group Playoffs on Saturday.
It was an exchange offer of high quality as Nadal replaced Feliciano Lopez in doubles a day after being replaced by him in singles. Why not? The 30-year-old and Marc Lopez are the reigning Olympic champions. It’s a distinction that even Leander Paes hasn’t earned. Could he and Saketh Myneni, against all odds, reverse the tide? Not quite, but they came close.
In a topsy-turvy-yet-brilliant match, Spain condemned India — via 3-0 elimination — to another year in the team event’s purgatory: Group I. Despite the 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 4-6, 4-6 scoreline, the hosts could’ve pushed it to five sets if they’d held on to their nerves and serves.
Nadal and Paes made sure that the crowd got their money’s worth, even though all the seats were free of cost. The 14-time Major champion was in his element, displaying his innumerable idiosyncrasies, fearsome forehand and trademark foot speed. There were at least a few instances where Paes’ deft drop volleys looked like stone-cold winners. But Nadal, as is his wont, managed to track them down. Paes, meanwhile, energised the spectators with a magician-like feel at the net.
That’s not to say that Lopez and Myneni didn’t play their parts well. It was just that they were cast in supporting roles, deferring to the main performers at opportune times. In the end, the stands gave both teams a well-deserved standing ovation.
The left-hander reiterated what he’d been saying all along. “Making the World Group has been our aim. With so many players in the top 100, we deserve to be there,” Nadal stated, before clarifying that it was indeed a stomach issue that had rendered him unfit on Day 1. “My wrist was alright, but my stomach not so much.”