After the two losses by Prajenesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan on Day 1, the Indian team has been under significant pressure on Day 2 of the Davis Cup by Rakuten World Group Playoff tie in Espoo, Finland. Our doubles team had to deliver the first match win for India – even though Henri Kontinen and Harri Heliovaara of Finland were in a slight favorite postion. For that match, Rohit Rajpal decided to replace Divij Sharan by Ramkumar Ramanathan, in contrast to the original nomination. Finally, Finland delivered in a nice doubles battle and – as four worse-ranked teams seem to have won their ties – directly qualify into the March 2022 play-offs for Madrid – while Rohit Rajpal’s team needs to avoid to be sent to Group II at the same time.
Harri Heliovaara / Henri Kontinen – Rohan Bopanna / Ramkumar Ramanathan 7-6(2)
The story of the first set is really a short one: most of the games were very straight for the serving team – there has not even been a single breakpoint. Just very few chances for the one or the other teams to get close to it – our team felt to be most opportunistic in the seventh game of the first set, but finally, Heliovaara could stand the pressure. The result: tie-break. Finland took an early advantage here with a nice Kontinen return against Rohan’s second serve and after a double fault by Ramkumar, Finland was 5:1 in the lead at court change. They even scored another point against India’s serve. The second chance with Kontinen on the baseline was their fortuna – 7:2 after a little less than 50 minutes in a set, which had some nice rallyes, especially at the beginning of the set.
The second set started really well for our guys – after a straight serve by Ramkumar, we broke Kontinen’s serve. However, the lead just lasted one game, as Rohan could not hold his serve as well – the match was back at even strength. In the second set, all players, including the solid guns Kontinen and Bopanna had some shorter weaker periods – but finally, no nation could take another profit at opponent’s serve. Harri Heliovaara was likely the one which had most trouble in the ninth game of the second set – but a 0:40 point score and an additional break point for India was not enough – the hosts mastered this challenge. No more trouble in the second one as well – so that the second set finished as the first one did: in the ultimate tie-breaker.
Three tie-breakers this weekend, all three in favor of the Finns – and all quite straight. Finally, the discipline in which this double came to an end was mental strength and self-confidence. In multiple points, India had great chances to score, but handed over their virtue to the Scandinavians. A bit of trouble with the Finnish fans was just a small note after a very fair and atmospheric tie. The tie-breaker finished with a 7:2.
Patrik Niklas-Salminen – Prajnesh Gunneswaran 3-6 5-7
Jarkko Nieminen gave Patrik Niklas-Salminen, his third option in singles, to have some match time in this dead rubber. Prajnesh had the chance to show a better performance than on day one against a player in the 400’s of the ATP rankings. The match started with a pleasing performance of the Indian, who broke Niklas-Salminen at his first service game and felt to be in the zone from the very beginning. But the Finnish contest, who struggled that much at the beginning, gained more confidence during the remaining first set. Vice versa, Prajnesh felt to loose too much control – his opponent had, however, no chance to get back into the set.
The voice of the second set was the lady of the Hawk-Eye Live automated linesman replacement. Both players struggled with their precision, there were quite many unforced errors on both side. Niklas-Salminen even had some chances against India’s serve to force the match tie-break (which is applied as a third set replacement in dead rubbers). Finally, it was Prajnesh’s higher level of play and experience which prevented this sportive overtime. At the very last game before a potential tie-break of the second set, the host nation’s player struggled too much with his serve, so that India had a pleasing ending after struggling the two days of Espoo before.
Pictures have been provided by Flyctory.com. Please refer to my posting there for a 375 picture gallery of the Day 2 matches.