Sumit Nagal saved the home team the blushes with a commanding win after Sasikumar Mukund limped out of the opening singles in humid conditions as India and Morocco shared honours on the opening day of the Davis Cup World Group II tie in Lucknow on Saturday. A brief spell of rain before the match made the conditions challenging, and it came down to the fitness levels of the players. After being on court for three hours and five minutes, the 26-year-old Mukund conceded the battle on his debut, soon after taking a medical timeout at 1-2 of the third set.
Cramping badly and grimacing in pain, he retired when the score was 7-6 (4) 5-7 1-4.
The huge difference in the rankings notwithstanding — Mukund is 192 places above Dlimi at 365 — it was far from an easy outing for the Indian.
Placed 156 on the ATP singles chart, Nagal then expectedly brought the home team back on level terms with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 win over Adam Moundir, ranked 779.
While it was a dull and long contest in the opening singles, Nagal and Moundir played some gripping tennis.
Both the players hit the ball hard. Nagal, who is in good form and is enjoying a good run in the Challenger circuit, controlled the points well and made less unforced errors compared to his rival.
Moundir showed the stomach for a fight but did not put enough balls inside the lines. Clearly, Nagal’s experience was a huge plus.
After breaking Moundir in the fifth game, Nagal dropped his serve immediately but found a way to break the Moroccan twice to run away with the opening set.
Moundir, though, used the drop shot quite effectively, especially when he lost points at the start of the games.
Nagal’s court coverage and solid defence in long drawn points was the highlight of his win.
“It is disappointing we lost the first match. Sasi consumed a lot of nervous energy. I told him to calm down. Unfortunately he started cramping. Sumit on the other hand is experienced and the difference of class was there,” said skipper Rohit Rajpal.
Rohan Bopanna will play the last match of his Davis Cup career on Sunday with Yuki Bhambri. They will take on Elliot Benchetrit and Younes Lalami Laaroussi.
“We knew the fitness will play a huge role in this tie. The conditions are tough but it’s same for both the players. Mukund had his chances and he did not take them. Once you start cramping and movement is restricted, psychologically, it becomes tough to come back,” India coach Zeeshan Ali told PTI, summing up the first match.
The 20-year-old Dlimi came into the tie after a good run on the ITF Futures circuit, having reached three finals and two semifinals in his last five outings. He carried the confidence into the match but struggled to contain his unforced errors, giving many free points to Mukund.
Mukund, on the other side, had lost four consecutive first round contests but he was competing at high-level tournaments, included an ATP1000 event.
The level of tennis was already not great in the match and the slowness of the court made it more physical.
In a nervous start, Mukund began with a double fault but held his serve after playing deuce point.
The Indian was in a spot in game five, going down 15-30 with a backhand that sailed over the baseline but came back with a forehand winner to make it 30-all.
A 26-shot rally followed which ended with Dlimi’s forehand kissing the net. Mukund held that game but handed the first break of the match in the ninth game.
He double-faulted after hitting a forehand wide to hand his rival two break chances. Dlimi’s deep returns on both flanks set up an easy finish. Running towards his left, Mukund barely managed to put the ball back in the court with a feeble backhand tap as the ball soared across the net.
Dlimi did not have to do much, as he just smashed the ball for a winner to draw the first blood.
The Morocco player, though, could not close the set in the next game as he dropped his serve following a string of unforced errors.
It stretched to a tie-breaker in which Dlimi’s unforced errors let Mukund race to a 4-1 lead. Serving at 3-6, Dlimi saved the first set point with an ace but hit a forehand long on the second.
Dlimi needed a good start in the second start but he dropped his serve in the very first game. Mukund consolidated the break. Soon the Indian was up 3-1, and it could have been 4-1 but Dlimi saved two break points in the fifth game.
Up a break and serving at 40-15 in the eighth game, Mukund began to struggle with his first serve. He lost his serve and the set was back on even terms at 4-4.
That struggle with first serve hurt Mukund badly as Dlimi forced a decider by breaking the Indian at love in the 12th game.