Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran handed India a 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan as they staved off a spirited challenge in their respective singles matches in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie in Bengaluru on Friday. In the first match, 267th ranked Ramanathan overcame Temur Isamilov 6-2 5-7 6-2 7-5, while debutant Gunneswaran, ranked 187, outwitted Sanjar Fayzieb 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Ismailov is ranked 406, while Fayzieb was played in place of Denis Istomin, who had pulled out of the second round tie due to a foot injury.
To his credit, Ismailov made life difficult for the Indian despite suffering cramps in his right hamstring.
Ramkumar dominated the proceedings before a bout of double faults handed Ismailov a small opening, which the Uzbek grabbed with both hands to make a match of it.
The Indian sealed the opening set in a jiffy and was leading 4-3 in the second when he saw himself down 0-40. He saved two breakpoints but netted a backhand on the third to allow Ismailov stay alive.
The Uzbek played freely while Ramkumar put himself under pressure to finish the job quickly. The nerves got to Ramkumar and, in utter desperation, he squandered four set points and was eventually broken in the 12th game.
The Uzbek had snatched the momentum but suffered cramps in his right leg in the third set, making the job of the Indian easy. Ramkumar ran away with the third set as Ismailov's restricted movements gave him easy points.
Ismailov, though, recovered remarkably after a medical timeout and was battle ready for the fourth set. Ramkumar was always catching up with the Uzbek, holding his serves without fuss, and soon it was 5-5.
Two unforced errors by Ismailov gave Ramkumar three break chances. He converted the third when Ismailov buried a return to the net.
Ramkumar's unforced errors continued as twice he sent down double faults on match points. He though sealed the match with a forehand volley winner.
In the second singles of the day, Guneshwaran won the first, third and fourth set.
In the second set, Gunneswaran trailed Fayziev 1-4 and the Uzbek levelled the match 1-1.
Fayziev led the third set 3-1 as Gunneswaran committed some silly errors, which made his task even more difficult.
But, to his credit, Gunneswaran refused to get bogged down and raced past the Uzbek to take a 4-3 lead.
Gunneswaran won the third set, and led the tie 2-1, before he overwhelmed Sanjar 6-4 in the fourth set and sealed the match in his favour.
Ramkumar later said encouraging words from Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna helped him in getting India off to a winning start.
"Before the match I spoke to Leander and he told me to play for the country and Davis Cup is a great adventure, so give your best," Ramkumar said.
Bopanna too, "likewise", offered him an advice.
The winner of the tie will qualify for the World Group play-offs, to be played in September.