Zeeshan Ali, in New Delhi,
New Delhi: The partisan crowd screamed their lungs out for depleted India, on Friday, at the R.K. Khanna Stadium. The support, though, went in vain as South Korea hammered the hosts on the opening day of the Asia-Oceania group Davis Cup game, taking a 2-0 lead.
Moreover, the visitors did not drop a single set and are on course to wrap up the tie on Saturday itself by winning the doubles. Forced to field a third-string side after the top players refused to make themselves available, India looked all at sea.
In the day’s first singles, V.M. Ranjeet looked no better than a club player and was thrashed 1-6, 0-6, 1-6 by Korea’s Min Hyeok Cho in just 83 minutes.
However, Vijayant Malik, another debutant, did far better than his teammate having fought for 126 minutes against the rival’s top player, Suk Young Jeong, before conceding the match midway into the third set because of cramps.
Jeong was leading 6-4, 7-5, 2-0 at that period.
So humiliating was the overall picture at the end of Day I that India’s non-playing captain S.P. Mishra did not even attend the media conference. The All India Tennis Association (AITA) president Anil Khanna, though, later admitted that attending the press conference was mandatory under the Davis Cup rules.
At a time when a bunch of rookies were trying desperately to match the Koreans on the Centre Court, the likes of Yuki Bhambri and Sanam Singh could be spotted watching the proceedings from the stands.
“We believe AITA may meet our demand in their executive committee meeting. In that case, they have to give it in writing to us,” said Bhambri.
Later, seething with anger, an AITA official said: “That’s all (the rebel players) they want. They are compromising with the nation’s interests for their own greed. These rebel players are responsible for today’s defeats.”
All said and done, Indian tennis was the biggest loser on Friday. Ranjeet, who played some impressive shots in the initial stages, soon began to fluff before being flogged by his opponent.
Committing plenty of unforced errors, Ranjeet was bundle of nerves. The only time in the match he could hold his serve was in the fourth game of the third set.
His teammates, including Leander Paes, did their best to encourage him on the court, but Ranjeet had very little to offer against Cho, who played perfect tennis.
Thankfully, Malik gave a far better account of himself in the day’s second singles though he too could not push Jeong too far.
A product of Chandigarh’s rural academy, Malik was full of guts against Korea’s best player. The relative inexperience did cost Malik during crucial moments. But Jeong had to fight hard for every point.
Malik looked in discomfort from the closing stages of the second set and finally surrendered to cramps in the third. Earlier, he received some treatment outside the court, but collapsed while serving at a 15-all position in the third set.
Malik had to be treated on the court itself. Later, he was sent back to the team hotel in a separate car.
“Malik was better than the first guy (Ranjeet). He played well. Our second player (Suk-Young Jeong) had trouble adjusting to the surface,” Yoon said.
Talking about Saturday’s crucial doubles , Yoon spoke about just one player.
“Paes is really good. We played against each other 20 years ago. But tomorrow we will try to win the match,” he said.
Jeong, who had an ice-pack on his shoulder while addressing the press conference, echoed his captain’s views .
“This is not the end. I will try my best to win the reverse singles on Sunday,” he said.
Mishra, who is guiding the side for one last time, said later that may be the occasion got to Malik.
“Probably it was pressure of Davis Cup but he played extremely well. He is young lad and fought hard. It’s (cramps) not serious and he should be all right for the reverse singles,” Misra said.
The 70-year-old non-playing captain said it made sense to withdraw from the contest.
“He was already two sets down and I do not want to get him injured, so he conceded. There was no point continuing. We needed to protect him for the reverse singles.
“The kind of tennis he played against Korean No.1 was pleasing. Had he pulled out one set, tension would have eased out,” he said.
Asked about the surprisingly tame defeat of Ranjeet in the first singles, Mishra said nothing worked for the rookie against Min Hyeok Cho. “Long rallies suited the Korean guy (Cho). He had the upper hand. Ranjeet needed to mix it up, go up and take the lead but could not execute. There was not much to tell him since it would have added pressure on him.
“His serve did not work at all, that’s why he could hold just once. He was down all the way,” Mishra said.
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