Monday, Apr 08, 2002
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India's Leander Paes hugs team-captain Ramesh Krishnan after piloting India to a victory in their Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday. Paes combined with Mahesh Bhupathi to win the unfinished doubles match and later beat Mark Nielsen in the reverse singles to give his team an unbeatable 3-1 lead. AFP
Paes' histrionics over the last three-days, winning both his singles and combining with Mahesh Bhupathi to win the crucial doubles, propelled India to its first ever victory over New Zealand in a Davis Cup tie. India had lost all their three encounters in 1975, 1976 and 1978.
After Paes and Bhupathi defeated Daniel Willman and James Shortall 6-4 6-3 6-4 in a rain-affected doubles tie, Paes gave India an unassailable 3-1 lead with a 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1 victory over Kiwi number one Mark Nielson.
Later, in an inconsequential best-of-three fifth rubber, India's Harsh Mankad beat James Shortall 7-5 6-3. India had stumbled at the post last year, going down to a formidable U.S. 1-4 at Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the World Group qualifiers.
For Paes it was yet another Davis Cup tie where he had to win three back-to-back matches to see India through. This time it was even tougher as he first had to finish off the doubles.
He cruised to 2-0 lead winning the first two sets and was leading 3-2 in the third when rain came to the rescue of Nielsen.
Paes then fought off a tremendous comeback by the Kiwi, who pushed it into the decider winning the third and fourth sets.
He finally won converting his fourth match point after Nielsen had saved the first three. Indian captain Ramesh Krishnan said he always had confidence in Paes, and the brief reversal in fortunes in the third and fourth sets showed only Nielsen's fighting spirit.
``I always knew that Leander (Paes) could do it. It was not as if Paes suffered a slump in the third and fourth sets but Nielsen really picked up his game as the match progressed,'' Krishnan said.
A relieved Paes was happy that he helped India to their first win over New Zealand. ``The fact that we had not won against New Zealand was always at the back of our mind,'' Paes said. Paes said losing the third and fourth sets was more due to mental tiredness. ``It was more of a mental tiredness,'' he said adding ``you have to give credit to Nielsen for the way he came back into the match.''
Nielsen, 396 in ATP rankings, more than made up for his inexperience with sheer grit.
The Kiwi matched the Indian, the most successful active Davis cupper, with his powerpacked game, although he lacked Paes' improvisation skills.
Showing no signs of tiredness, Paes called the shots from the word go with his crisp serve and volley game and forced Nielsen to save a break point in the first game of the match.
He got the break in the fifth game after Nielsen double faulted on break point set up by Paes with a deft drop shot.
Nielsen tried to undo the damage with some glorious forehand pases on either side of the court but Paes' top class serving helped him cling on the slender lead and win the first set 6-4.
In the third game of the second set, Nielsen, facing three break points, tried to charge to the net and made volleying errors to lose serve.
He again lost serve in the fifth and ninth game but there was enough indication of what was in store for Paes as he won the sixth game before conceding the set 3-6.
Nielsen began to come forward more often and after dropping serve in the second game of the third set he broke back immediately to level the scores 2-2.Then came the rain and the Kiwi regrouped and came back to win the third and fourth sets 6-4 6-2 to push the match into the decider.
Even as one thought that the marathon match had taken its toll on Paes' overworked legs, the amazing Indian ran away to a 5-0 lead in the decider, breaking Nielsen thrice.
A dejected Kiwi showed his disgust by throwing down his racquet as he sank into his chair.
After Nielsen managed to open his account in the fifth set winnning the sixth game, Paes went 40-0 up to have three match points and the Indian supporters got ready to celebrate.
But Nielsen was not ready to give up and punished three second serves from Paes to force a deuce. That was it as Paes settled the tie with two big serves.
Quick finish to
Earlier in the morning, bright sunshine came as a contrast to yesterday's dark sky when heavy rain delayed the start of the doubles match by four hours.
Resuming the match leading 6-4 6-3 the Indian pair continued its good form and produced explosive tennis to win the match with ease.
The pair played as if they were men possessed, and there was a certain urgency in their game.
Once again they broke Willman in third game to surge ahead 2-1 and it seemed to be smooth sailing for the former world number one pair until, serving for the match at 5-4, Bhupathi's serve came under pressure.
The Kiwis tried to build on a double fault by Bhupathi, also saving a match point, forcing two break points.
But the Indians' maturity in handling the big points came to the fore as they ruthlessly killed the opponents' challenge. PTI
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