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While no one really expected India to beat Uzbekistan in this Asia-Oceania Group 1 Semi-final encounter, the doubles point was one that India would traditionally have considered as one that was always theirs to win. However, the scratch Uzbeki pairing of Murad Inoyatov and world no.43 Denis Istomin stunned the top 10 Indian duo of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna.
To say that the Indians missed the considerable talents of Mahesh Bhupathi, who opted out of this tie to save AITA a selection headache, was an understatement. And perhaps, Bhupathi's decision could have a massive bearing on who represents India at the Olympics later this year with Paes and Bopanna's defeat to a considerably weaker Uzbekistan duo showcasing their lack of cohesiveness as a unit.
The match itself was not as close as the scoreline suggests, with Istomin and Inoyatov taking a 2 set lead before Leander and Rohan nicked the third set 6-3. However, the hosts quickly regained the momentum, breaking early in the fourth set to quell any hopes of an Indian fightback. The veteran Indians went down in a little over 2Â½ hours, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
There was further bad news for the Indian contingent with debutant Sanam Singh making it a trip he would rather forget after coming down with chicken pox on Friday. The youngster is already on his way home and India could well concede the final rubber instead of drafting Bopanna to play the second reverse singles.
19-year old former Australian Open junior champion Yuki Bhambri is scheduled to play Denis Istomin in the first reverse singles on Sunday, but Uzbekistan could well draft in Inoyatov or Sarkar Ikramov to give one of them some vital Cup experience.
The win means Uzbekistan have advanced to the World Group play-offs, while India will face New Zealand later this year, with the loser of that tie heading into a Asia-Oceania Group 1 relegation play-off.
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