Clinical and aggressive Punjab outclass Raipur at home to top the table

THE PUNJAB MARSHALLS would not have expected to cruise through their tie against the Raipur Rangers, but with a combination of clinical and aggressive play, the hosts comfortably beat the visitors (23-15) to win their second match of the Champions Tennis League (CTL) at the CLTA, Tennis Stadium in Chandigarh, today.  

Although we picked Punjab’s Marcos Baghdatis to guide the home team through, it was the inspired performance of Elina Svitolina that set the tone for a successful evening for the Marshalls. 

As usual, both legends started off proceedings for the evening and held their serve comfortably in the first two games. But lost their serves in the following games, owing to some unforced errors. However, the Brit kept exerting pressure on the Austrian by rushing into the net and got a crucial break in the fifth game. 

In the end, Punjab’s captain held his serve to close out the set by 5-2 and helped the home team secure an early advantage. 

As mentioned in our preview, Elina Svitolina and Alize Cornet started punishing the ball from the baseline and it was the Ukrainian, who broke the French women’s serve and held her own in the next game, to race to a 2-0 lead. 

Svitolina remained relentless in her attack and further broke Cornet to in the third game to extend her lead. Although Cornet showed signs of fighting back, but Svitolina’s weight of shots for the evening was too much for the French woman to handle. In the end, Svitolina obliterated her opponent by 5-1. 

After two sets, the visitors had only three games on the board, while the hosts were sitting pretty on 10.

Now, the Rangers desperately needed their mixed doubles pair of Bautista Agut/Cornet to respond. And, Agut/Cornet started positively and broke their opponents’ serve early. However, Baghdatis/Svitolina quickly broke back to get to level terms. 

At the business end of the set, the Marshalls had a decent shot to nail the set, but squandered the opportunity. In the end, Rangers’ pair did a fine job of finally winning their first set of the evening in a tight tie-breaker. 

After three sets, the home team was still in front, leading the visitors 14-8. 

And, after Baghdatis/Saketh Myneni broke early in the second game and raced to a 3-0 in the men’s doubles, it was almost curtains for the Rangers. However, the pair of Agut/Ramanathan fought back to take the next 2 games. But the experienced Punjab pair played some impeccable tennis at crucial moments to grab the next few games and the set 5-2. 

Marshalls were still comfortably ahead by 19-10 and the Rangers were hoping for a “Fernando Verdasco” like, miraculous performance from their best player Agut, in the fifth and final set of the evening. 

The Spaniard appeared to be in the driver’s after taking the lead 2-0 against Baghdatis. But like the previous sets, the Raipur team failed to capitalize on the advantage. The set then headed into a tie-breaker and Baghdatis ended up committing a few unforced errors, to give Agut the set (5-4) and a life-line to stay alive in the tie. 

As per the tournament rules, the tie then had to be decided in an over-time. The Marshalls were still leading by a handsome margin 23-15 but needed Baghdatis to win one out of the next three games to seal the tie.

In the end, the Cypriot managed to break the Spaniard to nail the tie, rather comfortably for his team.  The hosts will replace the Rangers at the top of the Group A table now and will play their next match tomorrow against the Mumbai Tennis Masters. 

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