Chennai were gracious hosts to the Nagpur Orangers, despite losing four sets on day five of the Champions Tennis League 2015. The only silver lining the ever-so-dignified Chennai crowd took until the last set was that the losing margin was smaller than their 16-25 rout by the Hyderabad Aces yesterday. But a lot changed in that last set.
Former world number one Jelena Jankovic had the edge over young Brit Heather Watson coming into the match, and the mixed duo of Lopez and Jankovic were touted higher than the home team, but it was the men’s singles that proved to be a thrilling game-changer.
Nagpur won the first four sets by a small margin, and seemed they would squeeze out a win, but the Spanish Superman Fernando Verdasco had other plans. Here are how things unfolded this evening in the SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai:
Legends’ singles: Alex Corretja (Nagpur) vs Rainer Schuettler (Chennai)
First up as always, were the team captains Rainer Schuettler and Alex Corretja. Schuettler started things off on a good note for the home team as he won the first game of the day. From there it was an evenly-paced set, with both players staying neck-and-neck throughout.
But Corretja, who was instrumental in Spain winning their maiden Davis Cup in 2000, kept his cool to claim the first set in the tie-break.
Result: Corretja def. Schuettler 5-4
Women’s singles: Jelena Jankovic (Nagpur) vs Heather Watson (Chennai)
Former world number 1 from Serbia Jelena Jankovic was definitely the favourite coming into the second singles contest. But Heather Watson showed wisdom beyond her years as she held her own against her much more experienced foe.
The young Englishwoman won the first game, but Jankovic soon led 3-1. Watson showed incredible resilience as she equalized to 3-3 and carried on to force a tie-break at 4-4. But experience would triumph, as it most often does, and Jankovic won the set in a close shootout.
Result: Jankovic def. Watson 5-4
Mixed doubles: Lopez/Jankovic (Nagpur) vs Verdasco/Watson (Chennai)
Nagpur had a distinct advantage coming into the mixed doubles match – both Lopez and Jankovic are well-known for their doubles exploits, while Watson has precious little experience in the format. The difference in experience showed as Lopez and Jankovic took a quick 3-1 lead to start the set.
But Fernando Verdasco would give the home crowd a glimpse of things to come, as he served Chennai back into the match at 3-4. Just when it seemed that Chennai would force another tie-break, Watson’s return failed her and gave Nagpur the set.
Result: Lopez/Jankovic def. Verdasco/Watson 5-3
Men’s doubles: Lopez/Sharan (Nagpur) vs Verdasco/Vardhan (Chennai)
As the fourth event commenced, Chennai were down 11-15 and were desperate for a win; another loss would almost certainly eliminate their chances of staying afloat in the tie.
The home team seemed to have the visitors’ number early on, as they matched them stroke for stroke to bring the score first to 2-2 and then to 4-4. But the tie-break went Nagpur’s way yet again and they clinched the set 5-4.
Result: Lopez/Sharan def. Verdasco/Vardhan 5-4
Men’s singles: Feliciano Lopez (Nagpur) vs Fernando Verdasco (Chennai)
The home crowd was subdued as the last set of the day commenced, staring at another whitewash by a visiting team. Verdasco and Lopez won a game each, and remained even with each other to bring the score to 2-2.
Cue for Verdasco to put on an impressive show of strength, quite literally. Prakash Amritraj, on commentary, said that Verdasco lifts heavy weights in the gym, and the fruits of all the toil were on display as he fired power shot after power shot to leave his compatriot Lopez gasping for breath.
With Nagpur needing just one game to win the match, and Chennai needing three to force a tie, Verdasco lifted the entire team’s load on his shoulders and led them to a super tie-break by winning the first tie-break.
With the overall score at 23-22 in favour of Nagpur, all Lopez had to do was hold serve to clinch the tie for his team. He raced away to two match points at 40-15, but then seemed to freeze mentally as he botched the simplest of overheads. He then missed another simple volley, eventually getting broken, and suddenly Chennai were within striking of victory.
Verdasco won the first three points of the super-tie break, and just when it seemed like he could do no wrong, he coughed up a double fault. Chennai seemed sunk when the an unforced error from Verdasco gave Nagpur yet another chance to win.
The din of the stadium was probably heard for miles around as Lopez served for the match. But finally, the seemingly invincible Verdasco broke down and so did the fans’ hearts! Lopez took the super tiebreak and with it the tie for Nagpur.
They may have lost on the scorecards, but the V Chennai Warriors put on the best match of the Champions Tennis League so far.
Result: Verdasco def. Lopez 8-4