Ramkumar Ramanathan gave his all but it was not enough to stop Laslo Djere from winning his first Davis Cup match as India trail Serbia 0-1 in the World Group Play-off tie, in Kraljevo (Serbia) on Friday.
Ramkumar battled 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 indoor clay court.
Djere, ranked 86, had lost both his earlier Davis Cup matches before clashing with Ramkumar, ranked 135, at Kraljevo Sports Venue.
The onus to bring India back is now on Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who will clash with world number 56 Dusan Lajovic.
Ramkumar pulled away in the opening set with a break of serve in the sixth game. The Indian was solid with his returns from the baseline while Djere faltered on the second breakpoint, sending a forehand return long.
An easy hold in the next put Ramkumar ahead 5-2. He served out the set in the ninth game when Djere hit a backhand wide from an advantageous position. With Ramkumar at the middle of the net, the Serb attempted a passing winner and could not keep the ball inside the lines.
Ramkumar charged to the net several times, as he has been doing of late, in the second set and got a few points.
He used to stay mostly at the baseline but now he has worked on his serve and volley skills after training with Sanjay Singh, who has a long association with master-of-the-art Leander Paes.
Djere, however, cut down on his errors and hardly lost points on his serve to lead 3-2.
After pulling out of Asian Games, Leander Paes dropped from Davis Cup World Group tie against Serbia
Prior to that, Serbian captain Nenad Zimonjic had argued with the chair umpire for overturning a call from the linesman, who called a fault on Ramkumar's first serve at 40-30 in the fourth game.
The chair umpire checked the spot where the ball landed when Ramkumar protested against the call and awarded an ace in Indian's favour.
Serving at 4-5, Ramkumar could not pick up a half-volley and netted a backhand slice to hand two set points to Djere. He needed a good service at this crunch situation but served a double fault to put the match on an even-keel.
In the third set, Ramkumar hit a backhand to the net on the second break point in the second game to trail 0-2 but a flurry of errors from Djere in the next game got the Indian back on serve.
There was no break of serve after that but Ramkumar saved a breakpoint in the fiercely fought 12th game to force a tie-breaker. Djere cruised to a 4-0 lead and closed the set with an ace.
Ramkumar had the chance to break Djere twice in the fourth set but he did not capitalise on those. However, the Serb did not miss what came his way and broke Ramkumar for a crucial 4-2 lead. There was no stopping Djere from there on as he put his country ahead in the tie.