HYOGO, JAPAN: The Japan-Croatia tie in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas will kick off on Friday with Croatia No. 1 Ivan Dodig taking on Japan No. 2 Go Soeda at Bourbon Beans Dome near Kobe. In the day’s second tie, Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori will face Ivo Karlovic.
Saturday’s doubles will see Karlovic and Lovro Zovko take on Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita, while Sunday’s reverse singles will see Nishikori face Dodig and Soeda against Karlovic.
“The plan is pretty obvious for this tie: It’s to win three out of the five matches,” Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan said. “But this tie is a little harder than it was maybe a few months ago when on paper we seemed to be the favourites for this match.
“In the last few months things have maybe turned around and maybe put the Japanese team in a slight favourites role with the way Kei played in Australia and the other three players playing and proving themselves as top-100 players.”
Krajan also pointed out that he is missing Marin Cilic and Ivan Ljubicic, but maintains that he still has a “great team.”
“I believe in my guys and I still believe that we are going to come out as the winners on Sunday,” he proclaimed.
World No. 55 Dodig also sees some close matches.
“I think this is going to be an open match for both sides and I think every match will be very tough for both teams. Both could win 5-0 or 3-2. We know that it’s going to be very difficult.”
Karlovic, ranked 12 places above his team’s No. 1 player, also believes it will be a tough tie.
“Of course, it’s not going to be easy because Japan have the advantage of the home court and they’re a really strong team, but hopefully we are going to win,” he said.
Japan are 10 places below the seventh-ranked Croatians in the Davis Cup rankings, but the recent form of Nishikori and Soeda will give them hope. And they will get inspiration from Japan’s 5-0 sweep of Slovenia in last week’s Fed Cup tie at the Bourbon Beans Dome. Japan Fed Cup captain Takeshi Murakami attended the draw to lend moral support to the men’s team.
The draw was chaired by referee Brian Earley, who was joined by Japan Tennis Association Vice President Koji Watanabe, Hyogo Prefectural Government representative Takashi Ohnishi, ITF Honorary Vice-President Eichi Kawatei and Marina Mihelic, executive director of the Croatian Tennis Association.
It will be the first time that Croatia have played Japan, who returned to the World Group for the first time in 26 years after beating India 4-1 in September.
Nishikori has risen to No. 20 in the ATP rankings after an impressive display in the Australian Open, while Soeda reached his highest ever ranking (88) in January and is currently No. 90. Soeda also beat Dodig in January at the Chennai Open.
Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi is confident that both his singles players and his doubles team can produce the goods.
“Go is kind of [playing] the perfect game right now and Kei has had almost the same results as Karlovic, so it’s going to be interesting, but they have big serves so we must focus on our returns.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Soeda (JPN) v Dodig (CRO)
R2: Nishikori (JPN) v Karlovic (CRO)
R3: Ito / Sugita (JPN) v Karlovic / Zovko (CRO)
R4: Nishikori (JPN) v Dodig (CRO)
R5: Soeda (JPN) v Karlovic (CRO)
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Captiain Eiji Takeuchi (JPN)
Captiain Zeljko Krajan (CRO)