New Delhi:Rohan Bopanna overcame a sore knee and steamy heat to quell the challenge of Japanese teenage sensation Kei Nishikori in a five-setter and give India a 1-0 lead in the Asia-Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie in New Delhi on Friday.
Bopanna toiled hard for two hours and 25 minutes to score a 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win in the first singles match.
Bopanna, who spearheaded India's challenge against Uzbekistan in the last tie, was made to sweat by 18-year-old Nishikori, who recently became the first Japanese player to win an ATP event in the Delray Beach International final in February.
The Indian played his trademark game approaching the net now and then while debutant Nishikori preferred to stay at the baseline.
Nishikori's strategy was to force Bopanna to make errors by keeping the ball in play. Twice he fought back and took the match into a decider.
Bopanna, who struggled with his inflamed left knee, committed many unforced errors but what saved the day for him were his booming serves.
The lanky Indian's dominance with his serve was evident from the fact that he fired 22 aces compared to his opponent's eight. Time and again Bopanna bailed himself out with aces.
Bopanna faced a stiff resistance in the very first set but managed to pocket it in the tiebreaker in 41 minutes. However, the young Japanese came back strongly in the next set and broke the lanky Bangalorean's serve in the second game to draw level 6-3 in just 22 minutes.
In the third set Bopanna broke Nishikori twice - second and 10th games - while the Japanese could pull back only one break. Bopanna clinched the set in 32 minutes.
Nishikori, however, rejuvenated himself after a rest period, and ran though the fourth set, breaking Bopanna twice to take the match into the decider.
Tied at two sets apiece, neither player was in any mood to concede an inch. The decider went with serve till the seventh game before Bopanna stepped up a gear and forced Nishikori to hit a ball wide. With the all-important break, Bopanna then served big to pocket the set and the match.
In the second singles Friday, India's number one Prakash Amritraj will take on Go Soeda.