Chandigarh: Saketh Myneni and Ramkumar Ramanathan endured challenging conditions to wear down their spirited rivals as India took a comfortable 2-0 lead on the opening day of the Asia|Oceania group I Davis Cup tie against South Korea in Chandigarh on Friday.
It seemed bizarre but both Ramkumar and Myneni saw their opponents conceding when the Indians were serving for their respective matches.
The 21-year-old Ramkumar, ranked 217, put the hosts ahead in his Davis Cup debut when Seong Chan Hong conceded the first singles due to cramps in his right thigh as the Indian was serving for the match.
After battling hard for two hours and 36 minutes, Ramkumar was leading 6-3 2-6 6-3 6-5 (15-15) when Hong suddenly clenched his right thigh and grimaced in pain, bringing about a sudden end to the match at the Chandigarh Club.
Since the rain has been lashing the city for the past few days, it made the grass soggy. The surface was dry but it turned out to be a dead court where the ball hardly rose to the knee height.
However, the surface improved when Myneni played as the ball was bouncing a lot better. The onus to bring Korea back was on the most experienced player of the side, Yong-Kyu Lim, but Myneni dashed their hopes with a 6-1 3-6 6-4 3-6 5 2 win to set India up nicely.
Lim conceded the match when Myneni was 15-15 and serving for the match in the eighth game. It was after the two players fought tooth and nail for three hours and nine minutes.
The 28-year-old Myneni, who played his first ever five-setter, threw his jersey and punched the air, to celebrate his victory. His teammates lifted him on the shoulders, acknowledging the grit showed in a tough contest.
The second singles was littered with medical timeouts and a long toilet break as both players started to struggle with cramps from the fourth set onwards.
Myneni, who has a high sweat rate, was fighting a battle with himself too as he struggled to stand but endured the torrid time to come out triumphant.
The hot and humid conditions tested fitness of the players even as the Koreans negotiated the grass courts, on which they hardly play, quite well. They had done their homework and made life tough for both Ramkumar and Myneni.
Surprisingly, it was the Koreans who approached the net more than the Indians, who are far more accustomed to playing on grass. They had played a lot on the grass in the run-up to the Wimbledon.
Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes will look to wrap up the tie when they face Hong Chung and Yunseong Chung on Saturday.
In complete contrast to the first match, Myneni made a dominating start by sealing the first set in no time as he broke Lim twice to race to a 5-1 lead.
True to his game, the lanky Myneni served extremely well, hardly conceded points on his serve and wrapped up the first set quickly.
Lim though managed to raise his game and matched Myneni's level from the second set onwards. It was 4-3 when the 25-year-old Korean capitalised on Myneni's double faults to get crucial break and levelled the match in the next game.
A flurry of unforced errors meant that Myneni was now facing three breakpoints in the opening game of the third set.
He was broken at love and India had reasons for concern.
Much to the relief of the home camp though, Lim served a double fault at 30-40 in the fourth game as Myneni neutralised the break. Lim staved off three breakpoints in the eighth game that saw five deuce points being fought off by the two players.
Lim managed to hold that but suffered reversal in the 10th. Lim's attempted lob went long, giving Myneni his first set point, but the Indian netted a backhand on that. Myneni found a forehand winner to earn his second set point and converted on Lim's unforced error.
Lim refused to throw in the towel and kept fighting. He broke Myneni in the fifth game to create a mini lead. It became both mental and physical battle as both Myneni and Lim started cramping.
The Indian had four break chances in the eighth game to get back the break but could convert none. Worse, he was on ground in the next game, cramping badly and conceded the game to surrender the fourth set.
It was an extreme struggle for Myneni to keep going. He was egged on by the little crowd that had gathered and by his teammates. He broke Lim in the very first game that was followed by a long toilet break. Myneni played some smart tennis by keeping the points short with his big serve.
The Korean again lost serve in the fifth game and when Lim fell on his back when Myneni was serving for the match in the seventh game, he could not recover from this bout of cramps.
Earlier, the bad surface prevented the first match from rising in terms of quality. There was no pace at all and merely keeping the ball in the court was a struggle for the players.
The sun was not exactly blazing but the humidity made the playing conditions more challenging and the Korean was clearly wilting.
Ramkumar, who relied mostly on backhand slice, was also struggling but he broke the Korean in the seventh game when Hong netted a backhand and the Indian converted the breakpoint with a trademark inside out forehand winner.
The 21-year old Indian tried to up the pace with his serve but that resulted in four double faults. Despite so many errors, Ramkumar managed to hold and broke Hong in the next game to sit pretty at 5-3.
Ramkumar hardly approached the net and kept hitting backhand slices for his returns from the back of the court.
Hong capitalised a bit on that by hitting a few unreachable drop volleys but could not stop Ramkumar from serving out the set in the ninth game.
The Korean fared better in the second set, well aided by Ramukmar's unrelenting unforced errors. A double break - 1st and fifth games -- put Hong ahead 4-1.
In a jiffy the second set was over with the two players level at 1-1. The heat and humidity was testing the two players now. Hong looked better prepared for the surface than the Indian as the Korean moved well on the court and set up a few points easily.
Ramkumar faced another break chance in the third game of the third set but came out serving well to thwart the danger.
It was now Hong's turn to face breakpoints in the next game and he only helped Ramkumar by serving a double fault on the second.
As the set progressed, the weather became cooler but the threat of rain was looming large. Ramkumar served with a lot of authority in the seventh to make it 5-2 in his favour.
Ramkumar had two chances to close the set in the next game but the Korean saved both set points. In the ninth game though he did not give any chance to the Korean, serving out the set comfortably with a volley winner.
The Indian attacked Hong with aggressive strokes, pinning him to baseline and enticed a forehand error on the breakpoint. A break in the very first game of the fourth set set Ramkumar up nicely for the win.
He had smelt victory and started to play aggressively and the resultant errors meant he lost his serve twice after that to stand 3-3 with the Korean.
At 5-5, Ramkumar broke Hong again. He earned the breakpoint with a backhand volley winner and converted that when Hong's backhand sailed over the baseline.
Ramkumar was serving for the match when the Korean suffered a thigh injury and was lifted out of court, bringing an anti-climactic finish to the match.