India kept alive their hopes of staying in the elite Davis Cup World Group as Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna scored a hard-earned 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Yuichi Sugita and Tatsuma Ito in the marathon doubles rubber in the play-off tie against Japan on Saturday.
Rattled by the opening day's singles defeats, India went with experienced players, leaving out Vishnu Vardhan, who was initially named to play the doubles along with Bhuapthi.
India are still trailing 1-2 and need to win both the reverse singles on Sunday with Somdev Devvarman clashing with Kei Nishikori and Bopanna taking on Sugita.
Although both Bopanna and Bhupathi play the left court, the Indian captain did not want to risk fielding Somdev, who encountered a shoulder problem during the opening match against Sugita, on Friday.
Sugita and Ito, who do not feature in even the top-450 in the doubles ranking chart, tested Bhupathi (6) and Bopanna (14) to the limits, forcing them to come out with their best effort as the match stretched to three hours and six minutes.
The Indians played well in patches, lacking consistency. The Japanese were all fired up and gave their best. Ito especially, served extremely well while Sugita never failed to raise his level when his team required him to do.
India nosed ahead in the opening set on Sugita' serve when Bopanna's forehand winner earned them their third breakpoint and Bhuapthi's backhand winner converted it in the third game.
The Indian pair faced two breakpoints in the next game with Bhupathi serving but no damage was done.
India let go of the advantage of the initial break as Bhupathi was broken in the eighth game, which allowed Japan to level the score 4-4 and then the failure to convert three breakpoints put the hosts ahead 5-4.
However, India managed to break Sugita in the 11th game and then Bhupathi served out the set to take a 1-0 lead.
Ito was successful in holding his serve after saving a break chance in the opening game of the second set but Bopanna was not that lucky as he went down 0-40 in the sixth game and the hosts converted the second point to go ahead 4-2.
That break proved costly for the Indians as the next three games went with serve and the Japanese restored parity.
The Indians then raised their level by a few notches and claimed the third set by breaking Sugita twice even as Bhupathi surrendered his serve in between.
However, the more the Indians put the Japanese under pressure, the better they played, and soon opened up a 4-1 lead in the fourth set, yet again breaking Bhupathi early.
India saved a set point on Ito's serve in the ninth game and then after squandering two break chances converted the third to reduce the trail margin to 4-5.
Eventually the set was decided through tie-breaker, in which the Indians prevailed, using all their experience.