Japan back in the elite World Group
India relegated to the Asia/Oceania Zone; Vishnu Vardhan impresses
Vishnu Vardhan made an impressive Davis Cup debut but failed to win as an injury-hit India was relegated to the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I after losing the World Group play-off tie 1-4 to Japan here on Sunday.
Coming into the must-win first reverse singles, in place of an injured Somdev Devvarman, 456th ranked Vishnu Vardhan lost 5-7, 3-6, 3-6 against World No. 55 Kei Nishikori, handing the host an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Later, Rohan Bopanna conceded the dead fifth rubber against Go Soeda after leading 5-4, due to a foot injury.
Japan was thus promoted to the elite 16-nation World Group after a gap of 26 years.
India, which had triumphed 18 times in the 21 previous ties against Japan, had started favourite against the host but injuries let it down.
India arrived here without top doubles player Leander Paes, who was ruled out due to back spasm he suffered during the U.S. Open, then lost Devvarman because of a shoulder strain and finally Bopanna encountered a toe problem and could not complete his match.
India came to the play-off stage after losing the World Group first round to reigning champion Serbia and will now yet again strive in the Asia-Oceania Group I in the 2012 season.
Thanks to the doubles win of Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna, India was afloat in the tie after Devvarman and Bopanna had lost both the singles on Friday.
India needed Devvarman badly on Sunday and his unavailability hit the visitor hard.
It was an enormous responsibility to fill in the shoes of Devvarman but Vishnu Vardhan did show the stomach for fight although he could not maintain the intensity with which he presented his challenge early on.
The 24-year-old Vishnu Vardhan made all the right moves right from the word go. Nervous he might have been but it did not show in his game initially.
Vishnu did not look like a debutant as he made a player of Nishikori's ability to work hard for his points and engaged him in the battle for two hours and 10 minutes.
Vishnu's impressive game, especially the double-handed backhand coupled with good serve and composure, reduced the ranking difference to a mere statistics, at least in the first set.
The first break of serve came as late as in the 11th game of the first set as Vishnu went neck and neck with Nishikori in the first 10 games.
Facing a breakpoint, Vishnu approached the net but Nishikori cashed in on the chance by smashing a forehand past the Indian and then held his own in the next to take the set.
As Nishikori stepped up the pressure, the Indian was again staring a break in the first game of the second set but saved both the chances.
Nishikori kept opening the lead and succeeded in breaking Vishnu in the third game, which eventually put him ahead 5-3 by the eighth game.
The Indian saved first of the three set points before double faulting on the second to hand a 2-0 lead to Nishikori.
Vishnu was still fighting and saved two match points in the eighth game of the third set, having suffered an early break, but that was not good enough and Nishikori had no problem in ensuring Japan's passage to the World Group after 26 years.
Vishnu earns praise
Debutant Vishnu might have lost his match against Nishikori but he earned praise from his teammates and the rival camp for his courageous show in the fourth rubber.
Vishnu, playing in place of injured Devvarman, put up a brave fight before going down in straight sets against Nishikori.
“His ranking is much lower than Kei's, but he put up a good fight. He showed some nice skills and a strong serve early in the match,” Japanese captain Eiji Takeuchi said.
The 24-year-old Vishnu reckons he played his best on Sunday.
“I thought I played some of the best tennis of my life today. It was awesome to be a part of this Davis Cup team. I thought I really pushed Nishikori to play better out there,” Vardhan, ranked 456th, said.
India's multiple Grand Slam winner Mahesh Bhupathi also had words of praise for Vishnu.
“India threw Vishnu into the deep end today and he played a great match. Made us all on the bench real proud!!,” Bhupathi wrote on his twitter page.
Bopanna, who retired in the fifth rubber due to a toe blister, also shared the same sentiment.
“Great effort shown by @vishnu_vardhan9 today in the 4th rubber, I think he played with lot of courage & attitude in his debut. Well done,” he tweeted.
Japan 4 bt India 1 (Kei Nishikori bt Vishnu Vardhan 7-5, 6-3, 6-3; Go Soeda bt Rohan Bopanna 4-5 (retd.). — Agencies