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Serbia take 2-0 lead against India

Lajovic (left) and Yuki
 BANGALORE, Sept 12 (PTI): Even a second-string Serbia proved a mighty opponent as Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman suffered crushing singles defeats to leave India trailing 0-2 on the opening day of the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie here today.

Serbia, who are here without their top stars, dominated the proceedings to comfortably place themselves at the drivers’ seat as they exposed the weakness of Indian players at this level.

India decided to host the tie at high-altitude conditions to take advantage but it was the Serbian players who came out as masters. Yuki Bhambri was thrashed 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 by Serbian number one Dusan Lajovic in the opening singles, which lasted two hours and four minutes at the KSLTA stadium.

The onus to bring India back into the tie was on Somdev and he was his usual fighting self but could not prevent the Serbians consolidating the lead as he lost the second singles 1-6 6-4, 3-6, 2-6 after battling for two hours and 23 minutes against Filip Krajinovic, ranked 37 places above him at 107. Somdev, who likes to pin the opponent on baseline, could not play to his strength.

Krajinovic stood out with his forehand, set up by his serve, and well-calculated drop shots. He closed the match in tremendous fashion, firing an ace.

Now, if India are to stay in the hunt, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna must win tomorrow’s doubles against Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac.

In the first match, Yuki, who missed a good part of the season due to a heel injury, could play well only in patches as world number 61 Lajovic cruised to win. Not having enough matches under his belt, it was an arduous task for Yuki to down a player, who has been in tremendous form this season in which he reached the French Open pre-quarterfinals too.

Yuki struggled to rein in his free-flowing unforced errors. He was not being able to finish the points after setting them up, which also cost him. A staggering 59 unforced errors and failure to convert seven of the nine break chances, told the story of the match.

Even as the two players struggled with their first serves, it was Yuki who shocked the Serbian side by getting the first break in the third game. Yuki’s strategy was clear – keep the points short. He approached net for that to happen and set up two points in that game with that.

Yuki converted the chance when Lajovic failed to tackle a brilliant backhand return from him, sending a forehand ball long.

The smiles from the faces of the Indian team and that of 2500-strong crowd evaporated soon as Yuki lost his serve at love in the next game, failing to contain his errors. The ball was coming at a good height due to the high-altitude conditions and going for the big ground-strokes, a key component of Yuki’s game, was difficult.

As Yuki struggled to keep the ball in on crucial points, the match gradually started to slip away from him. A forehand went crashing to the net and now Lajovic had a chance to go up. Yuki only helped the cause of his rival by sending a backhand long.

What followed was the most entertaining game of the match as Yuki fought off seven set points but could not convert any of the three chances he got.

Yuki played tremendous tennis from being down 0-40 even as Lajovic’s desperation to close the set and subsequent errors aided him along. After saving first three set points, Yuki earned himself the first chance to get a break with a stunning forehand service winner, but could not capitalise on it.

Another backhand winner gave him his third opportunity but a long and wide forehand on that breakpoint spoilt the chance. In between, Yuki came up with a stunning lob following an enticing rally and had Lajovic gasping.

However, the Serbian eventually close the set in his eighth set point on the back of a good serve, which Yuki failed to return. The second set was a disaster for India as Yuki’s game crumbled. Lajovic had settled and two back-to-back breaks put him in driver’s seat as the Serbian swiftly grabbed the second set.

Yuki raised hopes of reversal of fortune when he led 4-1 in the third set but unforced errors were back to haunt him. He dropped serve in the seventh game and that little opening was enough for Lajovic to claw his way back.

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