New Delhi: Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez fought off a brave challenge from the Indian duo of Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni in the doubles rubber to hand Spain an unassailable 3-0 lead in their Davis Cup World Group Play-off tie here on Saturday.
The Indians troubled the gold medal winners at last month’s Rio Olympics throughout the bitterly-fought contest before going down 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 4-6 in three hours and 23 minutes in front of a raucous home crowd at the jampacked R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium.
Paes was gunning to be the most successful player in Davis cup history. The old warhorse was playing in his 54th Davis Cup tie and was just one win shy of becoming the most successful doubles player in the history of the competition.
He is tied with Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli on 42 doubles victories, but his wait for the record continues.
The first three games went with the serve with both teams holding their serve at love. But the visitors soon claimed the upper hand when a beautiful return by Nadal saw them break Paes’ serve.
Nadal then held his serve in the next game as the Spanish duo took a 4-1 lead.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd, the Indians hit back in the seventh game, putting pressure on Lopez’s serve thanks to some excellent returns by Paes before clinching the service break.
The Spanish duo then put pressure on Paes’ serve in the next game with a couple of sublime placements by Nadal proving to be virtually unplayable. The visitors stretched Paes’ serve twice to deuce before the Indian veteran clinched the game with a strong return.
To the delight of the home crowd, the Indians produced some beautiful returns in the next game to break Nadal’s serve. The 14-time Grand Slam winner managed to save one break point, put Paes return in the next rally sliced between him and Lopez as the crowd burst into celebrations.
Myneni then held off a strong fightback by the visitors in the next game to hold serve as the Indians won the opening set.
The hosts started the second set on a resounding note, breaking Lopez’s serve to take a 2-1 lead. Paes then held his serve in the next game to increase India’s lead.
Nadal and Lopez put pressure on Myneni’s serve in the crucial sixth game befoe an excellent backhand from Paes sealed the game and increased India’s lead to 4-2.
In the seventh game, Paes and Myneni stretched Lopez’s serve to deuce before Paes hit a return into the net to hand the game to Spain.
With Myneni serving for the set, the visitors hit back with a service break to level the issue at 5-5.
Confusion between Paes and Myneni handed the first point to Spain. Myneni hit back with an ace before the Spanish team fought to break point at 15/40 before clinching the game when his attempted lob went long.
Lopez then held his serve to hand Spain a 6-5 lead.
Nadal and Lopez threatened to take another break of serve in the next game, forcing Paes to break point. But the charged-up veteran fought back to hold serve and take it into the tiebreak, which however the Spaniards dominated to win the second set and level the scores.
Spain wrested the advantage in the early stages of the third set, breaking Paes’ serve in the third game to take a 2-1 lead.
The subsequent games went with the serve before the Spaniards threatened to take another break off Myneni’s serve in the ninth game.
Serving to save the set, Myneni conceded the first point before drawing level at 15/15 with an ace. The visitors still managed to force their way to set point but the Indians held off one break point before a sublime drop shot by Paes clinched the game.
Nadal held his serve in the next game to hand the set to Spain with the visitors taking a 2-1 lead.
The Indians fought back in the third set and took the break in the second game as Nadal hit his serve twice into the net.
Spain almost broke Paes’ serve in the fifth game, going into break point at 15/40. But the Indians reeled off three consecutive points to save the break point before holding serve.
But Nadal and Lopez did not have to wait long to clinch the break. They forced as many as three break points in the long and fiercely contested seventh game before breaking Myneni’s serve and reduce the deficit to 3-4.
Lopez then held his serve as Spain drew level at 4-4. In the next game, the visitors clinched three back to back points off Paes’ serve to force another break and go into the lead.
Nadal then held his serve without breaking much sweat as Spain took the set and the match.