Balaji-Jeevan storms into doubles final, keeps Indian challenge alive at Tata Open Maharashtra

India’s N. Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan extended their brilliant run at the Tata Open Maharashtra by competing in the men’s doubles final here on Friday.

The Indian duo defeated Julian Cash and Henry Patten 6-4, 7-5 in the semi-finals at Balewadi Stadium.

With this convincing victory, Balaji and Jeevan also kept the Indian challenge alive in South Asia’s only ATP 250 event.

After initially struggling against the British pair, Balaji and Jeevan quickly got into the rhythm and took home the first set in comfort.

The second set was a neck-and-neck match with the score tied at 5-5. However, the Indians, who have played exceptionally so far after entering as an alternate pair, took the lead to win the next two consecutive games and advance to the finals.

They will compete against Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen in the title fight on Saturday. Gille-Vliegen defeated top seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in the other doubles semifinal.

Earlier on Friday, a tenacious Benjamin Bonzi knocked out second seed and world No. 35 Botic Van de Zandschulp in a gripping three-setter to reach his first ATP World Tour final here on Friday.

World No. 60 Bonzi kept up the intensity and won Zandschulp 7-6(5) 6-7 (5) 6-1 in an intense semi-final of the Tata Open Maharashtra at Balewadi Stadium.

With his victory, Frenchman Bonzi avoided a rare all-Dutch final, as Dutchman Tallon Grepes tracked eighth-seeded Russian Aslan Karatsev 7-6(4) 6-1 earlier in the day in the first semi-final.

It was Bonzi’s first victory in three encounters with the Dutch.

In each of the three sets, Bonzi broke up, but the resolute Zandschulp tense both the party and his opponent with his great play.

Bonzi hit smooth serve while Zandschulp made some uncharacteristically high unforced errors early on.

Bonzi found a stunning forehand winner on the Dutch player’s drive volley to earn three break points in game two and move up when Zandschulp scored a backhand on the second chance.

The Dutchman was in danger of going down 0-4 when he encountered another break point in game four when he hit a forehand long, but managed to hold on to get on board.

Sandscallop was soon in his element with his forehand inside-in shot that disturbed Bonzi. The Frenchman hit an overhead volley at the net and Zandschulp hit a backhand cross court winner on the next run, as Bonzi was now 0-40 down.

Bonzi hit a backhand to the net on the first break chance and the game tied as now at 3-3.

Bonzi was under pressure with the Dutchman hitting the ball really hard, but the Frenchman held his nose up with a firm grip in game nine to go up 5-4.

To stay in the set, Zandschulp hit a double foul on 30-all to give Bonzi his first set point, but saved it with a body serve that the Frenchman was unable to send over the net.

There was no interruption of service and in the end a tie-breaker was needed to decide the opening set.

Two forehand errors by Zandschulp gave Bonzi a 4-2 lead after a solid blow from the two players.

Two backhand errors by the Dutchman gave Bonzi four set points. Sandscallop saved the first three with Bonzi perhaps feeling the nerves, but he finally sealed it with a big serve that set up the irreversible backhand down the line.

Bonzi also drew first blood in the second set and got the break in the very first game.

Zandschulp led 40-15, but lost three points in a row to drop serve. He hit a backhand wide on 30-all, then couldn’t pick up half a volley on Bonzi’s return.

Leading 4-2, Bonzi executed a perfect lob on the first point of game seven to nullify an approaching Sand Scallop for a stunning winner.

Zandschulp committed an unforced error on the next run to trail 0-30, but came back strong for a hold and stayed close to Bonzi.

Now it was Bonzi’s turn to be 15-40 behind on his serve as he dropped the serve and the momentum suddenly shifted to Sand Scallop who reversed a chair umpire correction signal on break point to make it 4-4 .

The Dutch forced a decider when Bonzi found the net agreement at 5-5 and the ball fell over the net outside the line and hit a shot long at the set point.

Bonzi raced to a 5-0 lead with a double break, ending the intense match in no time.

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