Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna saved a match point to breeze into the title clash of the ATP World Tour finale after defeating Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek via Super tie-breaker, on Sunday.
The fifth seeded Indian pair halted the winning run of the Indo-Czech combination with a 4-6, 6-1, 12-10 win in the semi-finals and in the process avenged the defeat of the Shanghai Masters final last month.
Paes had said that the Shanghai final was a kind of grudge match after the Olympics selection drama when both Bhupathi and Bopanna had refused to pair with him.
Paes and Stepanek's third seed team was the only one to enter the semifinals unbeaten. They had topped the Group A with three wins from as many matches.
Bhupathi and Bopanna, who are making their debut at the finale as a pair, now have a chance to create history as no Indian has won the year-end championship since Vijay Amritraj's triumph in 1977.
The Indians will face the winners of the other semifinal between English-Danish combine of Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen and Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in Monday's championship match.
Bhupathi is making his 12th appearance at the finale and has ended runner-up four-time, including thrice with Paes.
With Paes he ended runners-up in 1997, 1999 and 2000 while in 2010 he finished runner-up with Max Mirnyi.
Like Bhupathi, Paes is 0-4 in title matches at the season-ending championships.
In the first set, Paes and Stepanek converted their fourth break point opportunity on Bhupathi’s serve, winning a sudden death deuce for a 4-3 lead.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Stepanek hit an unreturned serve to seal the 36-minute opener.
Bhupathi and Bopanna put Paes under pressure in the third game of the second set. Paes saved two breakpoints when down at 0/40 but hit a backhand volley into the net to gift his fellow Indians a 3-1 lead.
Bhupathi and Bopanna extended their lead to 5-1 after two terrific returns in Stepanek’s service game. Bhupathi closed out the 25-minute set with a hold to 15.
The Match tie-breaker was a tight affair with the two teams locked at 3-3 and then 8-8. Stepanek served out wide to Bopanna, who lobbed too short to give Paes a smash winner.
Bhupathi saved one match point with a backhand volley and at 9-9, on Bopanna’s serve and hit another volley winner down the middle.
Paes saved the match point with a forehand volley winner, but Stepanek volleyed a backhand into the net at 10-10.
Bhupathi, serving on his team’s second match point, serving down the middle, Stepanek returned to Bopanna, who struck a high forehand volley for a winner and it ended a 85 minutes.
Bhupathi admitted it was an emotional victory, especially given the nature of the relationships between the two teams.
"It's enjoyable at the end, yes," Bhupathi said. "The emotions are the emotions. I mean, everyone felt it. Everyone tried their best to win.
"We've been playing really well and won the title in Paris, so we just had to keep our heads down and fight because things can change at any second.
"We've had a fairly consistent year on the tour, reaching six Masters semi-finals, so we are just happy to finish with a bang.
"But we've got one match to go and we have to get back in focus after celebrating for a couple of hours. We'd like to finish with the title here."
(With PTI and AFP inputs)