There were seven Indians in action on Day 2 of the inaugural edition of Tata Open Maharashtra, but thanks to a cruel draw for local fans, no more than four of them could have progressed to the second round.
Sumit Nagal, who was on a seven-match unbeaten streak, kick-started the day against another qualifier, Ilya Ivashka from Belarus. The 20-year-old from Haryana had last won the Bangalore Challenger in November and then notched two wins in qualifying at Pune to make the main draw of his first-ever ATP tournament.
Ivashka, ranked 230, had defeated Nagal in their only previous encounter — at the same venue during the Pune Challenger in 2015. On Tuesday, Nagal could do little to change the fate of the match as he succumbed to a 3-6, 3-6 loss in an hour and 21 minutes.
The only time that Nagal was able to break his opponent was in the second set when Ivashka was leading by a set and a double-break at 5-2. However, Nagal was unable to capitalise on his break, and was immediately down 0-40 on his own serve in the next game. A double fault on match point brought an end to the clash with Ivashka moving into the second round.
One of the most anticipated matches of the day was between India’s top-ranked player Yuki Bhambri and local boy Arjun Kadhe, who had been given a wildcard into the event and was making his ATP World Tour main draw debut.
Bhambri, who finished 2017 ranked 116, should have been no match for the 610-ranked Kadhe, who has mostly only played on the lower-tier Futures circuit. However, on the centre court of the Balewadi Sports complex, Bhambri got off to a sluggish start.
At 2-1 in the opening set, the Delhi lad played a couple of loose forehands to get broken. Bhambri failed to consolidate after having broken Kadhe in the previous game. On the day, his serve — usually a reliable weapon — was surpassed by Kadhe’s 200-kmph pelters.
However, Bhambri’s groundstrokes, particularly his forehand, held strong as he got the better of his compatriot to win 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 15 minutes.
“I just wanted to get through in my first match. It wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggests. He served well, which helped him get out of trouble especially on a couple of break points. I didn’t want to give him any rhythm and wanted to mix things up a bit,” Bhambri said after the match.
The 25-year-old attacked Kadhe’s second serve, winning 71 percent of these points. Kadhe’s five double faults further helped Bhambri’s cause, especially the three that he hit while serving to stay alive in the first set at 3-5. Khade overcooked a forehand return on the second set point to hand Bhambri the opener in just over half an hour
In the second set, Bhambri had plenty of chances to run away with the match but he failed to stamp his authority. Bhambri was the first one to get broken in the third game but he quickly regained ground by breaking back immediately. He hit an excellent passing shot that even had Kadhe applauding, and followed it with a drop shot winner to make it 2-2 in the second set.
Kadhe, backed by a loud local crowd, held his nerve in the next couple of games, but fell behind 0-40 while serving at 4-5. He saved one match point with a gruelling rally that ended with a Bhambri error. But on the next match point, Kadhe’s luck ran out as his forehand clipped the net and the ball dropped just wide.
Bhambri had a relatively easy outing in his first round but he has work cut on Wednesday, as he plays two matches after a very short rest. He faces France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the singles first and then plays doubles with Divij Sharan later in the day.
“I have worked hard in the off-season, I had a good 2017. Physically, I am in good shape and if I can win a few more matches here, it will be really good. But it gets tougher on from here. But I do expect to give a tough fight,” Bhambri told reporters in the post-match conference.
Speaking about his next opponent, the eight-seeded Herbert, Bhambri said: “He is someone that we all know has done really well in doubles. He is actually a multiple Grand Slam champion, but he has done quite good and consistent in singles as well, whenever he plays. The fast conditions will favour him, he serves well and he volleys well.”
Bhambri stressed that he was confident he could beat the Frenchman but he will definitely need to put up a better show to outlast another round.
In the second all-Indian encounter of the day, defending doubles champions Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan clashed against Leander Paes and Purav Raja. Paes, a six-time titlist at this ATP event, was partnering last year’s finalist Raja.
This match had been built up as a “grudge match” because of Bopanna and Paes’ infamous past. But it was their partners who ended up playing a major role in the outcome of the match. Nedunchezhiyan was the stand-out player on court, with his quick movement and well-timed lobs. Raja, on the other hand, was broken in all four of his four service games.
The defending champions cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 victory in 57 minutes to progress to the quarter-finals, where the French duo of Herbert and Gilles Simon awaits them.
In the other singles matches of the day, fifth seed Robin Haase survived a tough opening round test against Blaz Kavcic of Slovkia. Haase survived 7-6(6), 7-5 to set up a second-round clash with Chile’s Nicolas Jarry.
Laslo Djere of Serbia and qualifier Thiago Monteiro of Brazil played two titanic matches in their respective first rounds to emerge as winners. Djere took two hours and 25 minutes to beat Marius Copil 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 while Monteiro earned a 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-6(8) win over Ruben Bemelmans on his fifth match point.
Djere faces seventh seed Mikhail Kukushkin in the second round on Wednesday while Monteiro will be up against US Open finalist and second seed Kevin Anderson.
Updated Date: Jan 03, 2018 13:02 PM