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Sharan saves three match points, Danes downed 4-0

The pressure was on Divij Sharan. Playing his first Davis Cup rubber in three years, the southpaw was serving to stay in the match in the 12th game of the deciding set. Knowing it would be tough to attack Rohan Bopanna’s booming serve, Danes Frederik Nielsen and Mikael Torpegaard had targeted Sharan. The plan seemed to work as Denmark had three match points.

But Sharan, 35, used his left-hand serve advantage to not just save all three, including two on his second serve, but also clinch the thrilling contest 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(4) on Saturday.

With Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri winning their singles on Friday, the result helped India retain their spot in World Group I. Denmark were demoted to World Group II. Ramkumar won the inconsequential fourth rubber 5-7, 7-5, 10-7 against Johannes Ingildsen to make it 4-0 for India.

“Rohan’s got a big game, Divij doesn’t. But they combine well and play solid which they did. That was the most important thing,” said India coach Zeeshan Ali. “Divij has a left-hand serve and with Rohan covering the net, it was very difficult to get the ball past him. The court was playing quick and that’s where Divij got a lot of help from, playing on grass.”

The fast grass court at Delhi Gymkhana made returns difficult. There was only one break of serve, in the second set when Nielsen couldn’t hold, in the two-hour contest.

India’s strategy was clear: Bopanna served big to win his service games with ease. When Sharan was serving, the 6ft, 4inch tall player from Bengaluru prowled the net, cutting off areas where Nielsen and Torpegaard could send a good return.

“The serve goes off quickly and gets very low which makes it hard to return,” said Denmark skipper Nielsen, winner of the 2012 men’s doubles title at Wimbledon. “Indians made good use of the grass surface and when the court is so fast, it’s difficult to hit with that speed. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as we would have thought.”

The decider was a replica of the first set with each holding serve easily until at 5-6 when Sharan was under pressure to keep India in the tie. In the tie-breaker, India zoomed to a 5-1 lead before the changeover.

“Credit to Divij to come up with some good second serves. It was not easy to return with me at the net and with such small targets,” Bopanna, who turned 42 on Friday, said. “I had a reflex volley (winner) too which surprised Nielsen, saving another match point. As doubles players, you are constantly working on these one or two moments. It turns out to be a huge chance if you can win (the point). We were saving those match points one at a time.”

This was India’s first win in the Davis Cup since beating Pakistan 4-0 in November 2019 when Rohit Rajpal took over as non-playing captain. India lost 1-3 to Croatia in March 2020 and by the same margin to Finland in September 2021.

 


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