India staring at relegation Italy win both ties on Day One

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Feb 2019 11:37:21


Italy's Matteo Berrettini (L) serves against India's Prajnesh Gunneswaran during their men's singles match in the Davis Cup 2019 tennis qualifier the Calcutta South Club in Kolkata on Friday. (AFP)



The gamble of playing on grass did not work out for hosts India, at least on the opening day, as Italy lived up to their reputation to win both the singles in the Davis Cup Qualifiers at the Calcutta South Club here Friday.

Andreas Seppi experienced some early hiccups before getting past Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-2 in the opening rubber, while 22-year-old Matteo Berrettini made a winning Davis Cup debut, cruising past India number one Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 6-3. With 0-2 down, India’s doubles pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan finds itself in a must-win situation on Saturday.

For Italy, top-ranked singles player Marco Cecchinato was paired with Simone Bolelli, the 2015 Australian Open winner in the doubles.

“Focus is on tomorrow. We know we have a job at hand. It will be a lot harder. No time to give up now,” non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi told reporters after the opening day’s struggles.

India had bounced back from a similar situation to win in China 3-2 in Asia/Oceania Group I rubber last year and Bhupathi drew inspiration from that turnaround.

“They are so much more experienced. If you take your chances you get rewarded. We understand the pressure of playing for the country. Strange things happen. It has happened in China. I know Italians are stronger than China but we will take one match at a time,” a confident Bhupathi said.

Italy opted to go with Berrettini ahead of top ranked and world number 19 Marco Cecchinato and the youngster, who made the second round of Wimbledon last year, did not disappoint and broke Prajnesh’s serve in the first set.

Berrettini, who had beaten Prajnesh in the Chengdu ATP last year, raced to 15-40 with two big forehands before converting his break point.

As the set wore on, Prajnesh looked more settled took as his serves started getting better. Both players held their serves until the Italian sealed the issue in the 10th game without a dropping a point.

Berrettini began the second set exactly the way he started the first, breaking Prajnesh to take a 1-0 lead. He started off with a sublime volley at the net and Prajnesh had no chance as the Italian dished out a couple of superb groundstrokes to make the job tougher for the Indian.

The crowd did their best supporting Prajnesh but the nerves soon started playing for the Indian who remained in the game by holding his serve till the seventh game. Berrettini effortlessly made it 5-3, racing through his service games before breaking Prajnesh again in the ninth game.

After two early errors, Prajnesh clawed his way back to make it 30-all but the Italian capitalised on another error to secure a match point. Prajnesh hit a forehand right into the middle of the net to concede Berrettini the match and Italy a huge 2-0 advantage.

“I was dreaming about this as a child. I was really happy and focused on the match. I’m really enjoying the moment and I’m glad it went my way,” said Berrettini.

Earlier, Andreas Seppi overcame early jitters to beat Ramkumar Ramanathan in straight sets, giving Italy a 1-0 lead. The World number 37 was slow off the blocks but hit top gear in the second set to complete a 6-4 6-2 win in one hour and 11 minutes.

The big-serving Indian fired eight aces but his weak returns meant that he failed to convert two break points in the first set before the Italian won five points in a row to wrap the opening set in 41 minutes. In front of a motley crowd shouting ‘Ram, Ram’, it was a neck and neck battle till the eighth game with both holding their serves.

Ramkumar, who is ranked 133, failed to convert two break points in the second and eighth game. The match was tantalisingly poised in the next game before the Italian broke it with a cross-court back hand. He went on to win four games in a row to seal the first set. The second set turned out to be a formality for the Italian as he shifted gears in the third game to give Italy a 1-0 lead in the tie. 

We failed to take our chances: Bhupathi



Not ruling themselves out even after falling behind 0-2, captain Mahesh Bhupathi on Friday said India paid the price for not making the most of the opportunities in their first singles rubber against former champions Italy in the Davis Cup World Group qualifier tie here on Friday.

“We had half-a-chance early there in the first set of the first match and we didn’t take it.

“When you are playing players who have so much experience and are used to playing at a level you have to take your chances. We didn’t at 3-4, 30-40. I am a firm believer that if you take your chances, you will get rewarded. That’s where the momentum swung,” Bhupathi told reporters.

Ramkumar got a break point in the second game after he was leading 1-0 but Seppi, ranked 37, held serve. In the eighth game, Ramkumar was leading 4-3 but failed to cash in as Seppi changed gears to wrap up the set 6-4. He won the second set easily by 6-2.

Bhupathi remained hopeful, saying he will will now bank on their doubles specialists Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan to keep them afloat.

“There is no doubt that we are disappointed but tomorrow is a light day and stranger things have happened. We are not going to rule ourselves out. We will try and win the doubles, we will try and chip away one by one,” he added.
and see what happens.”

India bounced back to defeat China 3-2 from a similar situation last year  Prajnesh, who is on a career high 102, said he became nervous after failing to break despite being 4-3 up in the first set.

“Nerves and tension got to me. It’s a learning experience for me. I gave my best, Seppi was better today. He deserved to win.”

On his game against Berrettini, Prajnesh said: “That put a lot of pressure on me because he is a good frontrunner and has a very good serve. He used that to his advantage. I think he played more aggressive than I did and that worked well for him,” he said after losing to Berrettini for the second time since Chengdu ATP last year

Hailing Berrettini, Prajnesh said: “He is a very good first strike player with a big serve, big forehand. He uses those to his advantage. I feel I needed to put more balls in play, start the rally and I felt I would have more of an advantage and I just didn’t do enough to get that to happen.”