New Delhi, February 11: Prakash Amritraj shrugged off a week of controversies to beat Farrukh Dustov in a tense decider and guide India to a 3-2 win over Uzbekistan in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie on Sunday.
The 23-year-old defeated Farrukh Dustov 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the final reverse singles match to lead India into the second round where they take on Japan at home in April. Dubbed "unprofessional" by his skipper Leander Paes before the tie for attending a late-night party, the 23-year-old Amritraj went into the match under tremendous pressure after Rohan Bopanna lost to Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (1), 6-8 in the first reverse singles on Sunday morning.
However, Amritraj, playing his first match in the tie, shouldered the burden of expectations with elan and beat Dustov in more than a two-hour long contest to get a standing ovation from his team-mates and a sizeable crowd that had turned out to support the team.
Ranked 265 in the ATP charts, 16 places below Dustov, Amritraj was breathing fire from the word go as he raced to a 5-3 lead in the first set after breaking the big-serving Dustov in the eighth game.
After pocketing the first set easily, Amritraj lost his way in the second as Dustov staged a comeback.
Both the players exchanged a break of serve before Dustov went a break up in the eighth game to make it 1-1 and raise hopes of a comeback like Istomin.
However, Amritraj was quick to bounce back in the third set and took a 4-1 lead before eventually closing it out.
Dustov needed a medical break after losing his serve in the third set due to a close line call going against him and he could never really recover from that.
The Uzbek looked desolate and blew away the few chances that he got. Amritraj, on the other hand, was quick to pounce on his opponent's mistakes and broke him twice in the fourth set to seal the issue for India.
Paes leapt out of his seat to lift an emotional Amritraj as the entire Indian team got around him. The US-based player hugged his father, the legendary Vijay Amritraj, before bowing to the crowd for getting behind him in the do-or-die encounter.
The win marks a tremendous comeback for Amritraj, who, before the start of the tie, was unhappy at not being picked on the first two days and vented his anger in the media, contradicting his skipper's claim that he was unfit.
Paes later criticised him in strong words for going to the media. Mahesh Bhupathi jumped to Amritraj's defence the next day and the team, it seemed, was divided.
"There were some ups and downs that we went through this week but we stuck together as a team and believed in each other. I am proud of my team," a visibly choked Paes said in the post-match press conference.
"I always had the confidence in him (Amritraj)," he added.
The controversy indeed took a back seat and the team showed unity to romp home after Bopanna's loss.