| Harsh Mankad hits a return to China's Sun Peng during India's Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group I first-round tie in New Delhi on Friday. (AFP)
New Delhi: Harsh Mankad embraced a solid, workmanlike approach to make light of an unfamiliar surface and opponent and give India a 1-0 lead in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group I first-round tie here on Friday. He showcased his growing maturity as he ran out a 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 winner over Sun Peng.
The 21-year-old Prakash Amritraj's quest for his maiden Cup win was delayed by a couple of rain stoppages after he won the opening set against the left-handed Wang Yu Jr. The Indian was trailing 2-3 in the second when play was suspended. The second singles will be completed on Saturday before the doubles rubber.
A small crowd, consisting largely of uniformed school children, waited patiently for the court to dry after the mild soaking it got from last evening's rain. Sadly for them, they had to leave before Mankad wrapped up a straight-set win to leave the stage for Amritraj to try and consolidate the lead before rain interrupted play.
'When I came to the stadium this morning and looked at the conditions, I was tempted to play but I must say Harsh did a fantastic job for us,' Leander Paes said.
Playing against the top-ranked Chinese in the opening rubber, Mankad showcased determination and, more importantly, an ability to adapt to the demands of grasscourt play, playing the big points really well. He may not have scripted explosive strokes and may have played well within his limitations but he was not afraid to adventure to the net anytime he saw an opportunity.
Mankad's resolve came to the fore in the very first game when he was two break-points down after the strapping Chinese lobbed a winner and the Indian himself made two unforced errors. He conjured two successive aces and followed them up with another fine serve before capping that with a volley winner to hold serve.
The 25-year-old broke Peng in the second game as the Chinese made a string of unforced errors and Mankad punctuated those with a fine volley.
The 301-ranked Mankad advertised his mental strength the best in the 11th game of the opening set. A double-fault, a great service return by Peng at the Indian's advancing feet and an overhead volley saw Mankad face two break-points yet again. The Indian came up with big serves to blast his way out of trouble.
Mankad stepped on the gas in the 12th game, a good service return and a forehand crosscourt winner setting him up for set-point. Peng was unable to hold nerve and sank a backhand return into the net.
Peng's game slipped into a litany of errors and it was no surprise that he dropped his serve in the fourth game of the second set. Mankad just had to stay in cruise-control mode to clinch the set. It was a similar story in the third set in which the Chinese was broken in games 5 and 7.
Amritraj quickly found his rhythm, combining his explosive game with an element of artistry to run away with the opening set. Serving powerfully and backing it up with good volleys, Amritraj put paid to Yu's aspirations of passing him at the net.