New Delhi: Leander Paes, partnering Rohan Bopanna, suffered a rare doubles defeat in the Davis Cup as Radek Stepanek and Adam Pavlasek gave Czech Republic a 2-1 lead over India in the World Group play-off tie, here.
It was one rubber in which India entered as favourites but the fancied team were tamed by the Czechs 5-7 2-6 2 6 in two hours and 10 minutes.
It was Paes' only second defeat in a Davis Cup doubles in the last 15 years. The last defeat had also come with Bopanna against Uzbekistan in an away tie in 2012.
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 to assemble from Saturday. Paes had only two practice sessions with Bopanna after his arrival.
The result leaves Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri with a daunting task of winning both the reverse singles tomorrow if India are to re-enter the elite 16-nation World Group.
Yuki will take on left-hander Jiri Vesley in the fourth rubber while Somdev will clash with big-hitting Lukas Rosol in the fifth match.
Bopanna, world number 13 in doubles rankings, was rusty today as he lacked control over his shots and there was no sting in his serve either.
Bopanna struggled to keep the ball in the court, which cost India dearly. Most of the half-volley pick ups Bopanna made went outside the lines. Even as he improved his serve in the third set but India could never recover.
On the other hand, Adam packed a lot of punch in his shots with impressive hand and eye co-ordination. His returns were solid and at net too he was a delight to watch. 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 took full advantage of their lead. Paes was more in control of his shots and made less errors than his compatriot.
Paes dropped his serve four times in the match and Bopanna thrice. Stepanek, who won two Grand Slams with Paes, was solid his service games and the Czechs lost serve only twice, both times Pavlasek failed to hold.
The Indian duo was always playing catch up after Bopanna lost his serve in the fifth game of the opening set. His backhand went soaring over the baseline that put the Indians down by a breakpoint. The Czechs capitalised on another error from the Indian.
Supported by thousands of fans, who braved blazing sun, the Indians managed to get the break back when they broke Pavlasek but Paes dropped his own to trail again. It was an engrossing rally from right behind the net between Pavlasek and Bopanna with the Czech coming out on top with a deft volley.
Radek served out the set comfortably as Paes attempted lob went out.
The support of the Indian hockey team from the stands did not change the fortunes of the hosts.
Paes lost his second consecutive game as Pavlasek yet again showed terrific hands, winning his second duel with Bopanna, who sent a forehand volley out.
Pavlasek hit a cross-court winner to earn the Czechs two break points on Bopanna s serve in the fifth game. They saved both but Bopanna smashed an overhead volley into the net, facing the third chance.
The young Czech lost his serve immediately after that but Paes surrendered his won and Stepanek served out the Czechs to a 2-0 lead.
The third set was same story as Bopanna handed advantage to the visitors by dropping serve in fifth game. There was little drama in that game as the Indians thought they have got the game point at 40-30 but the Czech team challenged the call and called it right. It was deuce.
Pavlasek was at it again and this time Paes was at receiving end. The young lad pipped the seasoned in another net battle.
Indians managed to save two breakpoints in that game but
Paes hit a volley out in the third. Another error from Paes in the seventh game gave the Czechs their second break and it was over for India in the next game as Stepanek served out the set and match.