Ramkumar Ramanthan gave everything but it was not enough to prevent Laslo Djere from winning his first Davis Cup match when India beat Serbia 1-0 in the World Group play-off tie in Kraljevo on Friday. Ramkumar fought hard before losing 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (2) 2-6 to Djere in the opening singles, which lasted three hours and 11 minutes on the clay court. Djere, in 86th place, had lost his previous two Davis Cup matches before facing Ramkumar, in 135th place, in Kraljevo Sports Venue. The responsibility to return to India is now in the hands of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who will clash with the world number 56, Dusan Lajovic. Ramkumar split in the first set with a service break in the sixth game.
The Indian was solid with his returns from the baseline, while Djere hesitated at the second break point, sending a long forehand.
An easy grip on the next puts Ramkumar ahead 5-2. He served the set in the ninth game when Djere hit a backhand from a vantage point.
With Ramkumar in the middle of the net, the Serbian tried to pass the winner and could not keep the ball inside the lines.
Ramkumar charged the net several times, as he has been doing
late, in the second set and got some points. He used to stay mainly in the baseline, but now he has worked on his serve and volley skills after training with Sanjay Singh, who has a long association with art teacher Leander Paes.
Djere, however, reduced his errors and barely lost points in his service to lead 3-2. Before that, the Serbian captain Nenad Zimonjic had argued with the chairman to revoke a call from the line judge, who qualified the absence of Ramkumar's first service at 40-30 in the fourth game.
The chair umpire verified where the ball fell when Ramkumar protested the call and awarded an ace in favor of India.
Served at 4-5, Ramkumar could not lift half a volley and scored a reverse slice to deliver two set points to Djere. He needed a good serve in this crisis situation, but he fulfilled a double fault to put the game in balance.
In the third set, Ramkumar hit a backhand to the net at the second break point in the second game to continue 0-2, but a flurry of Djere's errors in the next game caused the Indian to return to serve. There was no interruption of service after that, but Ramkumar saved a break point in the 12th game, fiercely fought, to force a tiebreaker.
Djere managed a 4-0 lead and closed the set with an ace. Ramkumar had the opportunity to break Djere twice in the fourth set, but he did not take advantage of those.
However, the Serbian did not miss what came his way and broke Ramkumar by a crucial 4-2 lead. He did not stop Djere from there, as he put his country ahead in the draw.