New Delhi: Bringing in his wealth of experience, Leander Paes combined with debutant Purav Raja to keep India afloat by winning the do-or-die doubles rubber against Korea on Saturday but it would take a super heroic effort to save the hosts from a defeat in the Davis Cup tie.
Playing for the first time together, Paes and his 97th doubles partner Raja pipped Yong-Kyu Lim and debutant Ji Sung Nam 6-4 7-5 6-2 in a hard-fought contest that went on for two hours and 30 minutes.
The way Koreans played on the first day, the Indians knew it was not going to be an easy task to tame their super-fit rivals. And it was evident from the very first game in which Paes and Purav faced four breakpoints but managed to escape unscathed.
Given his limitations, Purav supported Paes well. More than the quality of his game, it was his gumption that caught everyone's attention as he came across as someone who wanted to contribute to the country's cause.
Paes, who is now nearing 40, is not as sharp as he used to be but his experience of playing 48 ties before bumping into this fit Korean team counted today.
It is for the second time in the six months that Paes has produced good result with a first-time partner. At London Olympics, the 39-year-old Indian star had played extremely well with Vishnu Vardhan.
Now India need V M Ranjeet and Vijayant Malik to pull of the reverse singles tomorrow in order to advance to the second round of the Asia|Oceania Group I tie.
However, it is too much to ask form the inexperienced players as the both Suk-Young Jeong and Min Hyeok Cho are far superior players -- both in fitness and game -- than the Indians.
Ranjeet will take on Cho while Malik, who conceded his singles against Jeong after a valiant fight, will clash with Jeong.
It took Paes and Raja 10 minutes to get on the board but soon they were up 3-0 by breaking Lim in the second game, followed by a hold from Purav.
Paes bisected the two Koreans with a volley to earn two break chances in the sixth game but Lim kept his cool and served well to save both.
India soon lost the cushion when Purav was broken in the seventh game. His strokes lacked power and precision. Nam held to make it 4-4, however, the Indians broke Lim for the second time to take the set.
Paes' deft volley gave India three set points and Lim double faulted to hand India the set after an exciting 52-minute battle.
Purav improved as the match progressed egged on by partisan crowd of 2000 as the cheering went from being loud to deafening. At one point of time, the chair umpire had to ask Indian captain S P Misra to ask the Indian supporters to clam down between the points.
The Koreans fought hard to claw their back in the match and it was a commendable effort from then two players to stretch the second-set proceedings to a tie-breaker.
Purav lost his serve in the fifth game but the Indians broke the Nam in the eighth to even the scores. The crowd favourites along with the supporters had some anxious moments when Paes was broken in the 11th game but Indians break back.
In the tie-breaker, Paes' experience counted as the hosts erased a 0-3 deficit to go up 4-3 and then sealed the set when the veteran hit a superb backhand volley.
It was difficult for the Koreans to stage a comeback from two-set down and Indians clinched the issue quite easily.