A start that looked promising turned into a disaster for India very quickly as the hosts lost their first couple of singles rubbers to trail Italy 0-2 at the South Club in Kolkata on Friday. Ramkumar Ramanathan could not make use of two break points in the first set and since then, it all went downhill for the World No. 133 who eventually succumbed to the 37th ranked Andreas Seppi 4-6, 2-6.
With both the matches going against India, the only hope for them now is doubles where the ATP Pune winners Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan are slated to take on Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Marco Cecchinato in a do-or-die match.
The gulf in experience played a huge role in the first-ever showdown between Ramanathan and veteran Andreas Seppi even though the opening set was very competitive. India captain Mahesh Bhupathi’s decision to choose grass seemed vindicated as the 24-year-old Indian showed ample glimpses of why he made it to the final at Newport on grass last year.
With his booming serves that produced eight aces, he kept Seppi on the backfoot and even had a chance to make in-roads into the former World No. 18’s serve in the second and the eighth game. He, however, failed to land the deadly blow both times and that emboldened his opponent.
Seppi, who had ousted Roger Federer from the Australian Open in 2015, composed himself and wrested away the momentum since then. Surviving the break point at 3-4 down galvanized Seppi and it was very much what became the turning point of the match.
The Italian broke Ram in his very next service game and successfully served out the first set.
Seppi struck early in the second set to break Ramkumar in the third game. The returns, which did not look sharp for most of the first set, were on fire now and Ramanathan found it hard to stand in the face of the onslaught.
With the midday sun scorching, Ramanathan started spraying his backhands all over the court and looked to have lost the conviction that was earlier visible in his shots. Another break in the seventh game completed the surrender.
If the tennis-loving crowd at the South Club were hoping for a turnaround in India’s fortunes, they were in for a disappointment. Neither the tremendous support nor the fact that the World No. 53 Matteo Berrettini was making his Davis Cup debut, could save the 102nd ranked Prajnesh Gunneswaran.
A break by the 22-year-old Italian in the very first game of the match told the story. Berrettini had beaten Gunneswaran at Chengdu on hardcourts last year, losing just seven games. The surface changed this time but the number of games that Prajnesh got, remained the same.
Showing great tactical acumen and anticipation skills, Berrettini smartly took time away from Prajnesh, never letting him settle into the match on the fast surface. Even though the Indian fared much better for the rest of the first set, that early break was enough for the Italian to seal it.
Berrettini kept being aggressive and the speed and precision of his groundstrokes were too much for the Indian to handle. Unforced errors soon brought about the Indian's downfall as he conceded a break in the very first game of the second set as well, in a mirror image of the first.
The seventh game was a stern test for Prajnesh, who saved three break points with gigantic serves. However, it failed to do anything to change the course of the match for the determined Italian kept up the pressure on the Gunneswaran serve in the ninth game too. The Indian crumbled and dumped a forehand into the net, letting Italy go up 2-0.Published 01 Feb 2019, 19:58 IST