Tianjin: Leander Paes became the most successful doubles player in the history of Davis Cup with a record 43rd win before young guns Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran pulled off the must-win rubbers as India advanced to the World Group play-offs with a sensational 3-2 win over China here on Saturday.
Everything depending on how they fared in the do-or-die doubles rubber, the 44-year-old Paes and Rohan Bopanna downed a fighting Chinese pair of Mao Xin Gong and Ze Zhang 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(3) to keep India afloat in the second round Asia/Oceania Group I tie.
Ramkumar, who copped criticism from captain Mahesh Bhupathi for his lackluster show in the opening singles, redeemed his reputation by defeating Di Wu 7-6(4), 6-3 to level the tie 2-2.
Captain Bhupathi then played a masterstroke by playing left-handed Prajnesh Gunneswaran instead of Sumit Nagal in the tie-deciding fifth rubber against the Chinese teen sensation Yibing Wu and the Chennai boy did not disappoint as he delivered a 6-4, 6-2 win to seal the tie for India.
Prajnesh had come into the side after Yuki Bhambri pulled out due to an abdomen injury. The southpaw was fluent in his strokes and played fearless brand of tennis, going for winners.
Prajnesh, playing only his second Davis Cup tie, being a left-hander could counter Yibing from different angles and he also had the experience of playing on slow surfaces in China.
It is only for the second time in India's Davis Cup history that the team has emerged victorious in a tie after being down 0-2. However, this win has come in a new format in which best of three set matches are being played at zone level ties.
India will now compete in the World Group play-offs for the fifth time in a row. They lost to Serbia (2014), Czech Republic (2015), Spain (2016) and Canada (2017) in the play-offs.
The last time India competed in the elite 16-nation World Group was in 2011 when it lost to Serbia in an away first round tie.
India were trailing 0-2 after Ramkumar and Sumit suffered surprise tame defeats on Friday.
Paes, India's Davis Cup hero for years, was tied on 42 wins with Italian great Nicola Pietrangeli for long but finally surpassed him.
At the age of 16, Paes had made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 alongside Zeeshan Ali, who is now the coach of the side, and grew into a legend in the company of Bhupathi, who is now the captain of the team.
During his illustrious career, Paes weaved the longest unbeaten winning streak of 24 matches in Davis Cup with Bhupathi, with whom he ruled the ATP circuit in the late 90s.
Bopanna had expressed reluctance to play with Paes in this tie against China but he played well on Saturday.
Dropping serve in the third set was the only blemish as he stayed strong in his service games. His 'missile' serves proved too hot to handle for the Chinese and Paes, as usual, was superb at the net.