21 September 2009
South Africa’s attempt to qualify for the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 1998 was thwarted at the final hurdle as India beat South Africa 4-1 in Johannesburg on the weekend.
It was a disappointing end to a run of 10 successive victories in the competition for South Africa. It was also their first loss to India after three wins over their opponents in the only previous meetings between the two countries.
Hosting the tie in South Africa gave the home team that choice of venue and court type, and they opted for the Ellis Park Indoor Arena in Johannesburg. Although it didn’t work out, it proved to be a good venue for crowd support, which during Davis Cup ties takes on a very different and exciting dynamic to that found during regular ATP Tour events.
In the lead-up to the tie, the South African team received a pep talk from 2007 Rugby World Cup winning coach Jake White, but sadly his wisdom about performing at the highest level of competition didn’t carry any Madiba magic with it.
On the back foot
From the opening day of the tie, the reverse singles, South Africa were put on the back foot. Indian number one Somdev Devvarman, the highest ranked singles player in either team, defeated South African number two Izak van der Merwe in three sets: 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Then, when SA number one Rik de Voest met India’s number two, Rohan Bopanna, everything appeared to be going according to expectations when De Voest won the opening set 6-2.
Bopanna, however, suddenly hit his straps, serving superbly to put the pressure on the South African. The momentum switched, and De Voest was never able to regain it as Bopanna went on to a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory to leave his country within one more win of a place in the 2010 World Group.
Must-win doubles match
That left the South African doubles pair of Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee in a must-win situation to keep the tie alive into the final day’s play. Facing them would be Mahesh Bhupathi and, in the absence of the injured Leander Paes, Bopanna.
The four men produced some scintillating tennis, with the South Africans taking the first set 6-3, and India responding by capturing the second by the same margin.
Sadly, Bhupathi suffered a groin injury in the third set and the Indians were forced to retire with Moodie and Coetzee leading it 4-0. The South African success did, at least, ensure that there was all to play for in the final day’s singles matches.
First up on court on Sunday were the respective number ones: Rik de Voest for South Africa and Somdev Devvarman for India.
De Voest played with authority from the start to take the first two sets 6-3, 7-6, but Devvarman continued to fight fiercely and pulled himself back into the match when he captured the third set tie-break.
The Indian number one began to dominate on his serve from the fourth set, while De Voest’s unforced errors climbed and Devarrman took the set 6-2 to set up a fifth set decider.
By this time Devarrman had the bit between his teeth and, despite feisty opposition from De Voest and a crowd that was vocally behind the South African, he took the final set 6-4 to secure the tie and a place in next year’s World Group for India.
With the result already decided, Izak van der Merwe met top junior Yuki Bhambri in a best-of-three set match, as is the usual practice in dead rubbers in the Davis Cup.
Van der Merwe got off to a strong start to claim the first set 6-3, but Bhambri began to find his range, and with some excellent shot-making went on to take victory: 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The final score: South Africa 1 India 4.
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