Johannesburg: A dogged Somdev Devvarman scripted a spectacular win over South Africa’s Rik De Voest in a high-voltage marathon five-setter to clear India’s passage into the elite Davis Cup World Group after 11 years on Sunday.
Tenacity of Somdev and Voest engineered a prodigious tennis game which the Indian won 3-6, 6-7(3), 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4 after an energy-sapping four hour and 38 minutes battle at the Ellis park indoor stadium.
The hosts needed to win fourth-rubber to stay alive but India took an unassailable 3-1 lead with this triumph.
India last played in 16-team World Group in 1998 when it lost 1-4 to Italy. Thrice India reached in the final of the World Group but ended up runners-up on all occasions.
Voest, a man on mission, played like a true champion putting his heart and soul into the do-or-die match but Somdev showed that he had the class to beat champions.
Down by two sets, Somdev created an incredible comeback as he overcame an early drop of serve to break Voest in the fourth game of the third set and won it via tie-breaker to keep Indian challenge alive.
The prolonged battle started to take a toll on Voest as his shots became feeble, unforced errors began to flow and Somdev gradually took control of the match. He raced to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set by breaking the South African twice.
The Indian wrapped up the set in the eighth game and it all boiled down to the fifth and decisive set.
Heart-stopping show followed in the final set as Somdev and Voest raised the level of game by several notches. Every single point produced scintillating tennis.
Somdev broke Voest in the fifth game to shot into lead though he had chance to break him in the first game as well.
The South African hung in, saving three points in the seventh game but it was Somdev’s day as he served out the set in the 10th game, converted his second match point.
The second reverse singles, to be played between Rohan Bopanna and Izak van der Merwe has become inconsequential.
The host players have played exceptionally well at the net so far in the tie and continuing with the trend Voest utilized the skill to great effect in Sunday’s contest.
Voest’s strategy of attacking the net reaped rich dividends as his defence was almost unreachable.
Earlier, Somdev worked hard to set up points but a determined Voest foiled those attempts with smart tennis. He got plenty of chances to break his opponent but the South African did not let the Indian succeed.
The first chance came as early as in the second game of the opening set following a couple of unforced errors by Voest but Somdev could not convert that.
The South African though was not ready to the miss the chance when consecutive backhand and forehand errors by Somdev created a break chance for the hosts in the fifth game and Voest created a mini 3-2 lead.
Somdev was struggling to land his shots within the marked lines on crucial points and wasted as many as four chances in the eighth game.
A usually cool-on-court Somdev banged his raquet on the surface in frustration a drop of serve in the ninth game handed Voest the first set.
After going down 0-3 in the second set, down and out looking Somdev riposted and won three games in a row. It could have been four consecutive games for Somdev but a gritty Voest saved three breakpoints.
Then followed an exceptional game of tennis as Somdev and Voest played amazing rallies laced with some breathtaking shots. They fought as if their lives depended on those points.
After eight deuces and saving a break point Somdev held.
The Indian then broke Voest to be in a position to close the set but Voest saved two set points, forced a tie-breaker in which he prevailed to give his team 2-0 lead.