Ace doubles pair Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna suffered a shock defeat in the Davis Cup as Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek and Adam Pavlasek beat them to give their country a crucial 2-1 lead over hosts India in a World Group Play-Off tie in New Delhi on Saturday.
Stepanek and Pavlasek won 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and 10 minutes.
Earlier, on Friday, the tie was locked 1-1 after India and Czech Republic won one on singles match each.
Saturday’s outcome means India will now have to win both reverse singles matches on Sunday.
Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri have the daunting task of winning their matches and take India to the 16-nation World Group.
Bhambri will take on left-hander Jiri Vesley in the fourth rubber while Somdev will clash with big-hitting Lukas Rosol in the fifth and final match of the tie.
Much depended on the doubles match – a traditional strong area of India. And it was no different this time around. But Stepanek and Pavlasek ensured with their win that Czech Republic needs just one win on Sunday to clinch the tie.
It was Paes’ only second defeat in a Davis Cup doubles in 15 years. His last defeat had also come in an away tie against Uzbekistan in 2012, when he partnered Bopanna. It was also the first defeat for Paes in a home tie since 2000 when he and Syed Fazluddin had lost to Lebanon’s Ali Hamdeh and Jicham Zaatini in Lucknow.
Paes, who won US Open mixed doubles last week, had joined the team only on Wednesday for the tie while other players had started assembling on Saturday. Paes had only two practice sessions with Bopanna after his arrival.
Bopanna, world No. 13 in doubles, was rusty on Saturday as he lacked control over his shots and there was no sting in his serve. He struggled to keep the ball in the court, and that cost India big time. Most of the half-volley pick-ups Bopanna played landed outside the court. Even when he improved his serve in the third, it made little different to the overall result as India could never recover.
On the other hand, Pavlasek packed a lot of punch in his shots with impressive hand-eye co-ordination. His return shots were solid and at the net, too, he was brilliant. He hardly missed a shot and was a winner in his duels with both Paes and Bopanna. In each set, Indians were first to lose serve and the Czech players took full advantage of that.