Injury-hit Russia took control of their Davis Cup World Group first round tie against India after winning their opening singles in Moscow on Friday.
India made it to the World Group after a gap of 11 years and destiny gave them the best chance to progress as Russia's top players -- world number six Nikolay Davydenko and world number 38 Igor Andreev -- suffered injuries and were ruled out of the tie. But the visitors could not take advantage of their absence and now find themselves in an unenviable position of winning all the remaining three rubbers in the next two days.
Igor Kunitsyn put Russia ahead, beating Somdev Devvarman in the opening rubber 7-6(8), 6-7(4), 3-6, 4-6, while Mikhail Youzhny made it 2-0 after handing Rohan Bopanna a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 drubbing in the second singles.
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bupathi will take on Kunitsyn and Teimuraz Gabashvili in the doubles rubber on Saturday. The reverse singles will be played on Sunday.
The winner of the match will move into the quarter-final, while the loser will compete in play-offs to re-enter the elite 16-team World Group.
After Somdev's unexpected defeat, Bopanna had the big responsibility to rescue India but the task was too much for a player who is concentrating on doubles on the ATP Tour in the recent times.
Bopanna had helped India in the play-off tie against South Africa by pulling off impressive singles wins but he could not repeat the act though he did all he could within his limits.
He created opportunities with some booming forehand winners and big serves, but Youzhny showed his class and proved sheer power cannot win matches.
Youzhny was clinical, as he saved breakpoints with utmost ease and converted his chances at the first opportunity.
Earlier, Somdev had taken control of the first singles after winning the first set and leading 5-2 in the second set, but lost the plot thereafter in a marathon contest that lasted close to four hours.
Kunitsyn took the court in place of Igor Andreev, who was sidelined due to a left knee injury. Andreev himself was a last minute replacement for injured Nikolay Davydenko.
Due to the slow nature of the court, long rallies came into play, and, rather than the power, it was persistence, precision and stamina that was required to earn points.
Such courts suit Somdev's game, but Kunitsyn was brilliant at the net and his tenacity paid off in the end.
Somdev struggled to control his strokes after the first five games of the first set. Kunitsyn smashed a backhand to go 40-0 up in the sixth game and coverted third chance to get the first break. Somdev had saved a breakpoint in the fourth game.
Somdev though was unperturbed and immediately broke back. Two exquisite backhands did it for the Indian and it all boiled down to the tie-break, as the next five games again went with serve.
Somdev rallied from 1-3 down to earn the first opportunity and take the lead. A big serve set up the first set point but an attempted backhand winner sailed over the baseline, bringing relief for the hosts.
Somdev though came up with another big serve and sealed the first set after Kunitsyn sent a forehand wide.
A crucial lead in the pocket, Somdev fired on all cylinders in the second set, racing to a 3-0 lead. It could have been a double break had he converted a chance in the fourth game.
The body language of the Russian did not look positive after the assault, but Kunitsyn fought his way into the match and turned it around brilliantly. He broke Somdev in the fifth game only to drop his serve in the next.
With a 5-2 cushion it looked like a one-way traffic in favour of Somdev but soon the match was back to even terms with the Russian winning three consecutive games and stretched it to the tie-breaker.
His confidence back, Kunitsyn unleashed some powerful shots and played intelligently. He set up points beautifully, pinning Somdev to baseline and suprisingly the match which looked like going India's way was again alive.
The momentum shifted in favour of the hosts but Somdev too was not ready to throw in the towel and an intriguing fight ensued in the third set.
Another doubtful call on a Somdev's forehand handed Kunitsyn a crucial break in the eighth game. The Indian pleaded his case with the chair umpire but the decision remained and the Russian served out the set in the next game.
The two players fought hard in the fourth set but it was the Russian who took the crucial points when it matttered most.