Pune: Yuki Bhambri was far from his best but still managed a straight-set victory over Finn Tearney in the first singles to hand India a 1-0 lead against New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Group I round tie here today.
The 24-year-old Delhi lad, ranked 368, trailed in the first two sets but made amends to take a 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 win in two hours and 10 minutes against his 26-year-old rival from Wellington who is ranked 414.
Ramkumar Ramanathan will now clash with Jose Statham in the second singles.
Bhambri won the first set in 47 minutes after trailing 1-3 and then won four games in a row to lead 5-3, the decisive break coming in the seventh game. Although Tearney held serve to stay in the set, the Indian served out the 10th game at with a forehand winner to pocket the opening set.
Bhambri was down 0-2 in the second set but recovered quickly to take a 2-0 lead before dominating the third set and winning it with one break of serve as his rival's game went to pieces on the hard court at the Shiv Chhattrapati sports complex in Balewadi.
The Indian started brilliantly with a service break but then dropped serve twice, after lapsing into errors, to lag behind Tearney and then got control of his play, albeit with mistakes at times.
The Kiwi was more error-prone and frittered away the early advantage with some loose play. Bhambri took full advantage with some excellent, deep ground shots with his strong suit, the forehand.
Later in the set he started serving well and also hit some excellent returns of serve to put pressure on his rival. Bhambri, with a 10-5 win-loss record in Davis Cup singles as compared to his rival's 2-0, broke his rival’s first service game of the match with a forehand winner but then played loose and fell behind 1-3.
Tearney lapsed into errors and was quickly down 15-40 on his serve in the seventh game and was broken when he hit a forehand beyond the baseline to help Bhambri take the lead at 4-3.
Bhambri served a timely first ace followed by a forehand winner deep into the rival’s court to hold serve for a 5-3 lead and then, after Tearney managed to stay alive in the set he could not stop the Indian from racing away to the opening set backed by some notable serves.
The Indian then started on the wrong foot by dropping his serve early to trail 0-2 but like in the first set fought back immediately to restore parity by breaking his rival?s serve in the third when the Kiwi buried his backhand into the net.
With order restored, Bhambri broke his rival’s serve in the fifth game when Tearney double faulted and then held serve to take a handy 4-2 lead.
Tearney had to fight tooth and nail to hold his serve and prevent Bhambri from taking a commanding 5-2 lead after deuce was called four times.
And then when the Indian was serving for the set at 5-4 his rival frittered away two break points before Bhambri went up to set point with a service winner down the T and then clinched the set for a 2-0 lead when Tearney, undone by another net-cord return, hit his back-hand into the tape of the net.
By now the Indian seemed distinctly on top and it proved in the third set too as he was all over his rival in the third game on Tearney’s serve. The Kiwi was down 0-40 and then fought back to hold serve by winning the next five points but after Bhambri held his serve he could not prevent the Indian from going 3-2 up with a service break.
Bhambri played superbly in this game by using the drop shot from the baseline, an inside-out forehand winner and then a good approach shot to the net followed by a high volley to break serve for a 3-2 lead.
It was a crucial break as he won both his service games while Tearney held his serve in the seventh and then served to stay alive in the first rubber when trailing 3-5.
Bhambri, not to lose the advantage, put pressure on his rival’s serve immediately and had a match-point when the New Zealander mishit a forehand. And he came up with another excellent return of serve followed by a forehand down-the-line winner to clinch the match.