| A dejected Leander Paes after losing a point to Wayne Arthurs in Adelaide Friday. Arthurs won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. (AFP)
Adelaide: Fancied Australia expectedly made short work of the inexperienced Indians to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their world group qualifying match of the Davis Cup here on Friday.
Though the seasoned Leander Paes showed signs of a spirited resistance by stretching his reverse singles match to four sets, India could never really pose much of a threat to world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs, who put the hosts in the driver’s seat on the opening day.
Hewitt set the tempo by spanking the young Harsh Mankad 6-1, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1 in the first singles match while Arthurs overcame some anxious moments before suppressing veteran Paes with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the second encounter.
The two victories on the opening day has helped Australia move one match closer towards their goal of regaining the world group slot. India now face a do-or-die doubles match on Saturday and the combination of Paes and Vishal Uppal — playing in place of injured Mahesh Bhupathi — will be severely tested against the fancied duo of Todd Woodbridge and Hewitt.
Mankad was no match for Hewitt, as the reigning Wimbledon champion and US Open semi-finalist, took just an hour and a half to wrap up the match. That the tie extended that long was partly due to the cocky Australian’s drop in concentration in the second set, which went into the tie-breaker.
The second set consumed 50 minutes of the total match time but Hewitt, whose pace and range proved too much for the world’s 831 ranked Mankad, raised his game a few notches higher in the third set and closed it out in only 24 minutes.
Mankad, the grandson of Vinoo Mankad, the cricketer who famously ran out Australian Bill Brown from the bowler’s end in 1947, had played Hewitt once before as a junior in England five years ago, but lost in straight sets.
However, it was not so easy for Arthurs, who is ranked 53 as Paes once again proved that he was a totally different player in the Davis Cup.
Paes proved to be a huge stumbling block making his opponent fight for every point in the four set encounter. If the lanky Arthurs had hoped that his smooth and powerful serves alone would see him through, then he did not have an idea about his opponent.
The tone was set in the very first set when Paes broke back in the fourth game to level the scores 2-2 after the Australian had earned a break in the previous game. Arthurs took the set after he managed to break Paes who was still getting into his groove. But the tide began to change in India’s favour in the second set as the Australian lost his first serve percentage.
In the fourth game, Arthurs was forced to save two break points which he did by coming up with two back-stretched volleys and a delicate drop shot. But the cracks had appeared.
The experienced Paes started to pull a few tricks out of his bag, mixing his unorthodox crosscourt shots with some wonderful bootlace returns.
It paid dividends in Arthurs’ next service game, and the South Australian’s confidence was so low by now that he failed twice to execute a good pass on a weak volley to drop the game. However, the lanky left-hander peeled off four aces in the final game of the fourth set to keep Australia on course for an easy win.
n World Group semi-finals report on Page 24