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India win doubles to keep hopes alive

- HAVE A TOUGH TASK... IT WILL BE DIFFICULT: PAES
Leander Paes and Purav Raja after the doubles win against South Korea

New Delhi: After the Day I disappointments, India hit back in the Davis Cup tie against South Korea when Leander Paes and Purav Raja played with vigour and confidence to clinch the doubles rubber, at the R.K. Khanna Stadium centre court, on Saturday.

However, as the 4000-odd spectators burst into spontaneous celebrations after Paes and Raja outplayed Kong Kyu Lim and Ji Sung Nam 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to narrow down the score to 1-2, doubts still lingered over India’s chances in reverse singles on Sunday.

Both VM Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik are Davis Cup debutants, whose best efforts on the opening day were not good enough to stop the Koreans from taking a 2-0 lead. Given the pressure on the two Indian juniors, the visitors are better placed to win the tie.

Saturday, however, belonged to India. With debutant Raja as the partner, Leander dished out yet another of his trademark Davis Cup displays to tame the South Korean duo.

For 150 minutes, the crowd remained mesmerised as the Indian pair hit a series of winners at crucial moments to pocket the rubber.

Leander changed his natural style of play to deliver the goods for the team. “To be frank, in today’s match, it was my Plan B that worked, not Plan A,” said the 38-year-old. “I had to switch to plan B to make things happen.

“My natural style of play has a lot of creativity… Chip and charge… But it was not possible on the slow surface here. If I did, I would have passed the ball instead of hitting it.

“I knew that on this court, I had to be solid. That clinched the deal,” Leander said.

If Leander was at his vintage best, Raja’s performance came as a pleasant surprise. He was slightly shaky at the start, but played like an experienced hand in the end. He matched the Koreans shot by shot and his serves, at times, were better than his highly experienced teammate.

“Playing with a legend like Leander, that too in a Davis Cup tie, was great joy,” said Raja. “To say that I started with butterflies in the stomach would be an understatement.

“Leander is a phenomenal player… I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to deliver. But once I settled down, I didn’t have any problem,” said the Mumbai based player, ranked 155 in doubles.

The Koreans’ strategy, however, backfired. Kong Kyu Lim, their No.2 player in singles, was specially assigned the duty to use his vast experience in doubles. Instead, he proved to be the weak link, at least in the first set.

Lim was broken early in the first set and India were 3-0 up within no time. Lim once again lost his service in the 10th game and the Indians won the first set rather easily.

The turning point of the rubber, however, came in the tie-breaker of the second set.

Though Leander’s mastery at net play was never in question, his serves did worry the fans. While his first serves were erratic, he also double faulted on some occasions.

The Koreans raised hopes in the second set when they managed to break Raja in the fifth game. But India also hit back by breaking Nam’s service.

In the tie-breaker, the Koreans raced to a 3-0, but Leander and Raja made a fascinating comeback. While they served perfectly, equally clinical they were at the net.

So stunned were the Koreans that they hardly offered a resistance in the third set. The breaks came in the fifth and the seventh games. Raja served for the set and the rubber and won without dropping a point.

“Hard work always pays,” said Leander in the end. “Purav had been practising with me whenever I was in Mumbai. We did it for two years. All of you have watched the outcome today.”