Pune: Ramkumar Ramanthan scored a fluent win after Yuki Bhambri eked out a straight set victory to hand India a commanding 2-0 lead against New Zealand on the opening day of the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie, here on Friday.
Yuki was far from his best but still managed a 6-4 6-4 6-3 win over Finn Tearney in the first singles while Ramkumar was impressive in his 6-3 6-4 6-3 over Jose Statham in the second singles.
Veteran Leander Paes, eyeing a world record 43 doubles wins in the Davis Cup history, will now play along side national hard court champion Vishnu Vardhan tomorrow to seal the tie for the hosts.
Both the Kiwi players -- Tearney (414) and Statham (417) -- are ranked outside top-400 but the pair of Michael Venus and Artem Sitak are much exprienced doubles players and are likely to pose a strong challenge to the Indians tomorrow.
Ramkumar, who has been struggling for form of late, served extremely well today and also held his nerves on long rallies and that made a huge difference to the outcome of the match.
He clinched the opening set in just half hour with one service break in the fourth game that put him 3-1 up. Serving consistently well, often delivering the first ones at over 200 kmph, and hitting precise ground strokes, the tall Chennai lad dominated his vastly experienced opponent from the beginning of the opening set.
Ramkumar also served three aces, including one down the T when he was holding a set-point, and largely played confident strokes accompanied by grunts.
The break he secured was thanks to his chasing down the balls and coming up with some notable winners, the best of them being the forehand cross-court one from the left corner that beat his rival all ends up at break-point.
Holding a 3-1 lead, he was in some trouble at 30-30 in the next game after his first double-fault but fought immediately back with another ace before taking a 4-1 lead.
And then seized the moment when serving for the set at 5-3, Ramukumar served hard and true to take the set with his third ace of the match.
The second set was bitterly fought and Ramkumar had to dig deep into his big serves to come out of tricky situations at times. The Indian, in fact, had to save three break-points after trailing 0-40 on serve, after committing his second double-fault in the fourth game and saved the last with his fourth ace of the match.
The Indian youngster served his fifth ace to draw level later at 3-3 and then broke his rival's serve in the seventh for a 4-3 lead with some commendable play, winning points after long rallies in which a forehand winner to go to his second break-point stood out.
The pressure was too much for the Kiwi to handle and he promptly served his first double fault and dropped his serve to help Ramkumar go 4-3 ahead and then 5-3 by holding his serve with some difficulty.
Statham, who had a 22-14 win-loss record in the tournament, held his serve before Ramkumar served out the 10th game at 30, serving aces no. 7 and 8, the last one at set-point to take a 2-0 lead in the match. The second set lasted 40 minutes.
Ramkumar's aces saved him from being broken by his rival three times before he broke Statham's serve in the fifth game with the help of some excellent service returns and errors committed by the New Zealander.
Later, he again broke the Kiwi in the ninth game when at 30-40 Statham buried his forehand into the tape of the net to drop the set and the match.