BENGALURU: Despite having a strong record in doubles over the years, India often found itself on the receiving end when it came to singles. Under previous captain Anand Amritraj as well, fitness always played a big role in keeping India down. But under new non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi, this aspect has looked much better, and that was probably the factor that gave India a 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan in their Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I second round tie at the KSLTA Stadium here on Friday.
Bhupathi credited the stars of the day, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneshwaran. “Both worked individually on fitness, and my only role was to bring in trainers. Home advantage and heat played a big part,” he said. Ramkumar, spearheading India’s singles charge in Yuki Bhambri’s absence, beat Temur Ismailov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, while debutant Prajnesh, playing his first-ever five-setter, defeated the experienced Sanjar Fayziev 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to put India in a comfortable position.
Uzbekistan’s players, who said they were fit and getting used to conditions, were struggling to keep up with the Indians’ fitness. Fayziev, who is set to play the doubles rubber on Saturday with Farrukh Dustov as well, was clearly struggling.
Fayziev will assess his condition and decide on playing doubles. “I’ve a heart condition (heart arrhythmia), and feel breathlessness. I’ll consult the doctor and see if I’m fit to play doubles. Davis Cup is a special tournament, that’s why I continued and finished the match against Prajnesh.”
Fayziev might have struggled after the second set but till then, Prajnesh put up a confident display. He claimed the first set 7-5 with two aces, breaking the Uzbek youngster in the last game. But the latter came back strongly with some crafty play in the second. The Chennai lad was too strong over the next two sets, taking the third 6-3. By then, Fayziev was struggling with chest pain, and the 287-ranked Prajnesh finished off the match by claiming the final set 6-4 to win the match.
The day’s opening match was a battle of fitness. Ramkumar, who has been struggling with form and fitness recently, was determined to make amends for Bhambri’s absence. After a slow start, he found his rhythm, breaking Ismailov in the third game and claiming the set 6-2.
But the big server gave away the second set far too cheaply, with seven double faults (including three on the trot) and poor backhands helping Ismailov come back into the match.
But the World No 406 started struggling with right thigh strain. He took a medical timeout, and was unable to respond to Ramkumar’s scorching serves. Ismailov had to take another medical timeout, and despite the going down the wire, Ramkumar came out top in the end, clinching the set 7-5 and handing India a morale-boosting lead.