Playing his first Davis Cup singles match in four years, Rohan Bopanna saved himself from embarrassment as he edged past Hong Chung in the dead fourth rubber to set India up for a Korean whitewash in the Asia/Oceania Group I tie here on Sunday.
Asked to take court in place of Saketh Myneni, who is still recovering from his gruelling match on Friday, Bopanna laboured to a 3-6 6-4 6-4 win against Chung, who is ranked as low as 655 in the ATP rankings list.
Down by a set and trailing 0-3 in the second set, Bopanna had his back against the wall but found rhythm in time to escape to a victory.
Bopanna last played a singles match in the Davis Cup in 2012 when he won the dead fifth rubber against Uzbekistan’s Sarvar Ikramov. It was his 10th singles win in Davis Cup.
India now lead Korea 4-0 and need Ramkumar Ramanathan to win the fifth rubber against Seong Chan Hong to make a clean sweep. If Ramkumar wins, it will be India’s fifth whitewash since 2005 when it had blanked China 5-0. The last came in 2014 against Chinese Taipei in Indore.
Lack of experience of playing singles was evident as Bopanna heavily relied on his ‘boom boom’ serves but Chung resfused to be intimidated and posed a good challenge to the Indian.
Bopanna peppered Chung with aces, firing 27 in all in the one hour 23-minute match. It was his big serves that rescued him as he struggled with precision in his ground strokes as he was at the entire court in a match after a long time.
Bopanna initially lost all points on his serve on double faults. His fifth double fault, followed by a backhand to net meant that the Korean had the chance to draw first blood. The crafty left-hander sent down a forehand winner to take the offer, much to the shock of the Indian camp and home fans.
Bopanna again failed to put across a volley that crashed on to the net to hand Chung his first set point. Under pressure, Bopanna made a forehand error and the Koreans had smiles on their faces.
The Indian, struggling with his ground strokes, was broken early in second set that put Chung ahead 3-0. However, a break in the seventh game brought Bopanna back in the match.
Chung sent a forehand to the net to be down 30-40 but managed to save two breakpoints. Bopanna smashed a crosscourt backhand winner to earn his third chance and converted it with a forehand volley winner.
At 4-4, Bopanna again broke Chung in the ninth and servedout the set in the next. The tall Indian had a chance to go up early in the third set as he had Chung down at 0-40 but could convert none of the three chances.
Chung took a medical timeout to treat his left shoulder after the third game in the final set. Bopanna broke him in the fifth game and retained the lead to serve out the match in the 10th with an ace.