Sitak-Venus pair dent Paes' record bid, keeps Kiwis afloat
Leander Paes trains ahead of the Davis Cup tie. File pic/AFP

Pune: Leander Paes' hopes of creating a world record in Davis Cup were dashed when the veteran Indian and Vishnu Vardhan lost the third rubber to strong rivals Artem Sitak and Michael Venus, who kept the New Zealand alive in the Asia-Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie, here on Saturday.

Down 0-2 after losing the first two singles to the home team, Sitak and Venus rallied to take a convincing 3-6 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 win in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The defeat for Paes and his partner meant that the 43-year-old Indian stalwart could not overtake Italian Nicola Pietrangeli for most wins in doubles in Davis Cup history. The two players are tied on 42 wins. India, who are now 2-1 ahead in the tie, will now need to win one of the two reverse singles tomorrow to clinch a place in the second round.

India had taken a 2-0 lead on day one with Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan winning the first two singles. Tomorrow Ramkumar will take on Finn Tearney before Yuki takes on Jose Statham in the final rubber of the tie. Paes and Vardhan started in style and raised the 4000-strong capacity crowd¿s hopes at the Shiv Chatrapati Sports Complex by clinching the opening set in 28 minutes by breaking Venus in the sixth game. But the New Zealand pair fought back superbly by winning the second set in 32 minutes by breaking Paes' service once and then clinched the third set, in which the Indians squandered two break point chances.

With the momentum having shifted to the visitors, it was no surprise when they got an early service break, in the second game of the fourth set when Vardhan dropped his serve, before closing out the set and the match. In the first set Vardhan served a couple of aces in succession to dig his way out of trouble. Paes followed suit with a fine return of serve before clinching the point with a cross court winner to break the Kiwi's serve at 15 that put the hosts 4-2 ahead. The veteran, ranked 64th in doubles, then held serve at 15 and although Sitak was faced with a must-win situation to hold serve and stay in the set he managed it well by holding at love.

The lowly ranked Vardhan, given timely tips by Paes, did not let go of the advantage and went up to 40-0, the Kiwis fought their way back to 40-30 but had no chance when the 29-year-old Indian served a timely fourth ace to close out the set. The Kiwis, both ranked higher than the Indian duo in doubles, hit back by clinching the second set in 31 minutes, one break of serve off Paes¿s delivery in the fourth game that gave them a 3-1 lead doing the trick.