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Last Updated Wednesday May 31 2017 12:05 AM IST

Bopanna, Balaji put India in World Group play-offs

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Bopanna, Balaji put India in World Group play-offs India's Sriram Balaji, left, makes a return as his partner Rohan Bopanna looks on during the Davis Cup doubles match against Uzbekistan's Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev in Bengaluru on Saturday. PTI

Bengaluru: India sealed their place in the Davis Cup World Group play-offs with Rohan Bopanna and N. Sriram Balaji routing their rivals with clinical precision for an unassailable 3-0 lead against Uzbekistan, here on Saturday.

Bopanna and debutant Balaji defeated Farrukh Dustov and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in the doubles rubber of the Asia/Oceania Group I second round contest at the KSLTA stadium.

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Uzbekistan needed to win the doubles rubber to keep the tie alive, but the Indians proved too good for the visitors with Balaji making an impressive debut.

Ramkumar Ramanathan and debutant Prajnesh Gunneswaran had handed India a comfortable 2-0 lead on Friday by winning their singles against Temur Ismailov and Fayziev respectively.

Sunday's reverse singles now will have no bearing on the outcome of the tie and will be best of three sets.

India have now qualified for the World Group play-offs for the fourth straight year. They lost to top teams -- Serbia (2014 in Bengaluru), the Czech Republic (2015 in New Delhi) and Spain (2016 in New Delhi) in previous three years in the play-offs.

The play-offs will be held in September and India's next opponents will be known later when draw will be made in London.

It was a tremendous start for Mahesh Bhupathi as captain of the team. Bhupathi had chosen Bopanna over veteran Leander Paes, who is one win away from making the world record for most doubles victories in Davis Cup history.

Balaji not only served well he showed skills at the net and gradually started to return well. Bopanna, whose weapon is his booming serve, carried his teammate nicely and his single-handed returns proved too hot to handle for the Uzbeks.

The Indian duo sent down 16 against the rivals' one. They also grabbed points on their first serves at the rate of 92 percent compared to the rivals' 62.

Both Bopanna and Balaji served extremely well and it was key to their stupendous success. The ball zipped off the court and with Bopanna and Balaji being tall customers, they were able to extract bounce.

They targeted Fayziev throughout the match and the strategy paid off as they broke the Uzbek twice in the opening set and early in the third.

Dustov fought hard, but he too felt the heat and was broken in the 10th game of the second set. It was on serve till the ninth game when Dustov came out to serve to keep the set alive.

A foot fault at 15-30 and the following double fault put him down 15-40, facing two breakpoints. With Bopanna making superb returns, Dustov struggled to handle a ferocious shot from him and netted it, handing India a two-set lead.

Uzbeks failed to post any fight in the third set with Bopanna and Balaji racing to a 4-0 lead with double break.

"We kept each other relaxed. Balaji served well and that was key. We did not let Fayziev settle. It didn't feel that Balaji was playing his first Davis Cup match," said Bopanna after the match.

"There was a lot of camaraderie in the team. It was a team effort. In doubles gelling well with your partner is key and that made the difference," Bopanna added.

Balaji said he never felt nervous.

"I was very comfortable. I knew Bops will carry me and the captain was telling me what do and what not to. Both of us served well, the first serve percentage was very high," said the debutant.

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