Chennai: India`s hopes to re-enter the Davis Cup World Group suffered a big jolt as the hosts conceded a 0-2 lead against Brazil, following defeats of Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna in the action-packed singles rubbers on the opening day of the play-off tie, here today.
Running high on emotions, both the matches lasted over four hours and went to the wire as players from the two teams fought tooth and nail till the last point, in a stunning display of stamina and hunger for win.
Bopanna squandered three match points in the final set to lose the first singles 7-6 (2) 6-7 (7) 5-7 6-4 8-10 to world number 27 Thomaz Bellucci.
Gritty Somdev put up a valiant fight but could not level the tie for India as he lost 6-4 2-6 7-6(3) 2-6 4-6 to Ricardo Mello, who is ranked 38 places above him at 75.
India will have to win all three remaining rubbers to re-claim a berth in the elite World Group.
Bopanna was all charged up as he came into the tie after a memorable run at US Open, where he made the doubles final with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, but missed out on recording the biggest win his Davis Cup career by losing the marathon match, which lasted four-and-a-half hours.
He made Bellucci, ranked 452 places above him, work hard for points but could not pull it off as nerves got the better of him on crucial junctures.
Somdev dropped his serve twice in the decisive set, which proved crucial and snuffed out India`s hope.
The onus to bring India back in the tie is on Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who will take on Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo in the doubles rubber tomorrow.
Paes and Bhupathi have not lost a double rubber in the last 23 ties but the Melo-Soares pair cannot be taken lightly as they have proved their mettle by beating world number one Mike and Bryan this year.
Bopanna and Somdev will have to win reverse singles on Sunday.
India came to the tie after losing the World Group first round tie to Russia. The Brazilian side is trying to enter the elite group since 2003 but have been unsuccessful in their last few attempts.
"The lack of playing singles matches made the difference today. There was definitely a chance but lack of singles for past years made the difference. I made him play as much as I could but he came up with some big points at crucial hours," Bopanna said after the match.
Unlike the Bopanna-Bellucci match, the second singles between Somdev and Mello was a fast-paced match, featuring a lot of engrossing rallies.
There was little to separate the two players although the blistering forehand of Mello made the Brazilian look like more dominant player.
The match was on even terms as every point was fought vigorously by Somdev and Mello, and it all came down to curbing the unforced errors.
Somdev began tremendously, breaking Mello in the very first game of the match, creating a 3-0 lead and went on to seal the first set with an inside-out forehand winner.
Both the players mostly relied on powerful ground strokes, sticking mostly to the baseline.
It was Somdev`s turn to feel the heat as Mello went 3-0 up in the second set. Mello almost made it 4-0 when he hit a stunning service return winner, followed by a forehand winner to earn another break chance but Somdev served outstandingly to save that.
Mello was in full flow and there was no stopping him from making it 1-1.
Somdev was unsuccessful in attacking the weak backhand of Mello so he tried to make deep returns and the strategy paid in the third set, which though was decided by a tie-break in favour of the Indian.
Mello was unfazed despite conceding lead for the second time and won consecutive sets to give his side a 2-0 lead on a day when for the time India hosted a Davis Cup match under flood lights.
Earlier, Bopanna let slip a famous win out of his hands as Bellucci, who struggled with his first serve throughout, braved cramps and turned it around amazingly for Brazil.
The left-hander justified his top-30 rank and also saved himself from an embarrassing defeat against a player, who is ranked 479.
With a comfortable 5-2 lead in the final set, Bopanna had three match points in game eight but squandered all as the big moment overwhelmed him.
Bopanna was egged on by his teammates and little crowd in attendance but never recovered from the setback and dropped his serve in the next game.
His confidence, with which he dominated his superior ranked early on, gradually waned away and another break of serve in the 17th game ended all his hopes.
Before that Bopanna was also comfortably placed to win the second set tie-break as he was up 5-2 but allowed Bellucci to make a comeback and lost the set.
At the start, Bopanna used his lethal serve and big strokes quite effectively and was also aided by some erratic shot-making by lean-built Bellucci.