Somdev Devvarman was never going to lose this game. It wasn't an option.
The match in question was the first of the reverse singles between India and South Africa in the Davis Cup World Group play-off in Johannesburg.After 2 hours and 15 minutes of play, the match was as good as sealed. The India number one was down by two sets and a break in the third. He was broken on a doublefault in the first game of the third set. The break of serve silenced the Indian bench and threw the South Africans into a frenzy of action, with the seasoned Wesley Moodie leaving the arena to possibly prepare for the fifth match.
Right then, at the change over, Somdev told his teammates, "I'm not loosing this one."
He didn't. Impossibly, miraculously the Indian, with the heart of a bullfighter and the legs of a marathon runner, beat his friend and practice partner Rik de Voest 3-6, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 in 4 hours and 43 minutes. The win gave India a 3-1 lead and a place in the elite World Group after over a decade in tennis wilderness. Yuki Bhambri made a stunning debut beating Izak van der Merwe 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the last match.
"It was a physical match," Somdev said. "Rik started playing unbelievably well. He was spot on with his game and tactics. But I kept looking at my bench. They never lost confidence in me. They pulled through this one. I'm so happy for the older guys, because they worked so hard to build a team. Now they'll have a chance next year to play the big sides again."
Mahesh Bhupathi, a man of few words, was at his animated best right through the encounter. "The thing with Somdev is that if it comes down to a fight or fitness, you're playing him on his terms. I've watched many five-set matches in Davis Cup, most of them involved Leander (Paes), with him the points get over pretty quickly, but here every point was going to 20-30 rallies and that's brutal on the nerves. In Davis Cup, where the pressure is so great, the more balls you make the other guy play, the better for you."
Somdev may have been broken in the fifth game of the first set, but after eight games and 43 minutes of play, the story coming out of the Ellis Park indoor stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday was a small piece of statistic called break-point chances. De Voest converted the only chance he got, while the Indian had six, but failed to nail even one in that set.
In terms of matchplay, this wasn't Somdev's tidiest effort. But little matters like, coming up short on big points didn't set the Indian back. He made his opponent play every ball, every point.
Broken in the second game and trailing 0-3 in the second set after losing the first, the Indian gave his opponent the chase to level scores at 3-3. Somdev then broke De Voest in the 11th game, when he forced a backhand error. He had a set point in the 12th game, but De Voest broke to push the set to tie-break, which he took control of at 3-3, winning the next four points.
It looked like curtains for Somdev when he was broken in the opening game of the third set. But remarkably, he soldiered on, breaking back to take the set to tie-break, which he closed out on the back of a blistering forehand pass, followed by a backhand winner.
In comparison, the fourth set was over in a jiffy. De Voest was broken in the third and fifth games.
The decider was a battle of the will, who wanted it more? Played as the match was between two players, who train together, under the same coach. Somdev drew first blood in the fifth game, gaining from two forehand errors. The 24-year-old then served out the match in the 10th game.
This could be the beginning of a new era for Indian tennis. After more than a decade of doubles expertise being the cornerstone of the country's challenge in Davis Cup, India's young guns clinched the required three points with singles wins in Johannesburg.