Tokyo, Sep 17 (IANS): Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna Saturday warded off a spirited challenge from Japan's Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita in the doubles to keep India alive after losing both the opening day's singles in the Davis Cup World Group play-off here.
Bhupathi and Bopanna, who stepped in for injured Leander Paes, had to rough it out against Ito and Sugita before coming through on the back of a tight fourth-set tie-breaker for a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 ,7-6(4) victory in over three hours.
It was a must-win match for India, who trail 1-2 in the tie, and they need to win both their reverse singles matches Sunday to regain their place in the World Group. Japan, on the other hand, are looking to enter World Group for the first time since 1985.
Somdev will Sunday play good friend Kei Nishikori first up while Bopanna will run into Sugita, Japan's unlikely hero after his straight sets victory over a far higher ranked Somdev on the opening day.
Sugito, who turns 23 Sunday, and Ito stretched the experienced Indian pair with their big serves and searing ground strokes. The Japanese pair's swift court movement and aggression often caught the Indians off-guard.
The Indians eventually came through by the sheer strength of playing top-flight doubles and their uncanny net play.
The Indians were made to work hard for every point by the Japanese and there were several smart exchanges at the net. Ito and Sugita, however, perished in their attempt to go for outright winners to breach the dour defence of the Indians.
For India, Bopanna was superb with his big serve and sharp reflexes and got a solid support from Bhupathi from the backcourt. Bhupathi's serve, which was not at its best this day, was repeatedly attacked by the Japanese pair but the doubles expert and a winner of 49 career doubles titles, hung on to turn the tide at critical points.
The Indians were quick to take a 3-1 lead in the first set by breaking Sugita's serve but Bhupathi committed two double faults in the eighth game to drop his serve to restore parity.
The Indian veteran made up for the blip when he successfully served out the set after breaking Sugita again in the 11th game.
Sugita and Ito, however, upped the ante in the second game and needed just one break of serve, this time Bopanna's in the sixth game, to even out things.
The third set, like in the first, saw three breaks of serve, with Indians once again moving ahead by breaking Sugita for the second time in the set for a 2-1 lead.
A charged up Japanese pair leapt for everything that came across the net in the fourth set and broke Bhupathi for the third time in the match after the Indian pair committed two successive backhand volley errors.
The rubber looked to be going into a decider, but Ito's nerves got the better of him while serving for the set at 5-4 and Bopanna made no mistake in consolidating on the break, losing only a point in his service game.
The set entered the tie-breaker, where Indians broke away from 3-3 with Bopanna uncorking two big serves to close the out the match.