GEELONG, AUSTRALIA: Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione won a clinical doubles rubber 62 62 62 over China’s Zhang Ze and Li Zhe to give Australia an unbeatable 3-0 lead and a berth in the Asia/Oceania Group I semifinals in April. The Aussies will take on Korea, Republic in another home tie.
So elated was captain Pat Rafter with his pair’s ‘flawless doubles’ and the team’s straight-sets romp over China at the Geelong Lawn Tennis Club that he declared his Aussies - Bernard Tomic, Hewitt and Guccione - a top-three team. Not in Asia/Oceania, mind you, but top three among the World Group. A big statement, given the Aussies have been out of Davis Cup’s elite World Group since 2007.
After a delayed start due to intermittent drizzle, Hewitt and Guccione dropped just two points on serve in the first set and were too solid and savvy on grass for their Chinese opponents. As in the singles, Chinese No. 1 Zhang combined flamboyant winners with rookie errors, although as far as flashy shots, Hewitt’s between-the-legs retrieve of a smash late in the second set took some beating.
Now 3-0 in Davis Cup, with a win over Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka last September, and an Olympic victory over Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo at Beijing in 2008, Hewitt and Guccione are an effective and affecting combination, poles apart as players and personalities. ‘Gooch’ is the laid-back lefty with a sonic-boom serve, while ’Rusty’ is the flinty baseline warrior.
“We couldn’t be more different,” Hewitt confirmed. “I think Gooch lifts a bit playing with me and the positive energy I try to have out there.”
Their contrasting strengths would make a intriguing combination at the 2012 London Olympics, on the lush lawns of Wimbledon to boot, though Hewitt urged his 26-year-old partner to concentrate on his singles career, disrupted by serious Achilles injuries in recent times.
Hewitt served out the match for his record 49th Davis Cup victory, a remarkable 16 wins ahead of the next Aussie. Win No. 50 is a tantalising number, though Rafter signalled he would likely give the reverse singles slot to Matthew Ebden, for the West Australian’s Davis Cup debut. Hewitt agreed, unselfishly putting team development above personal milestones.
Grass is likely to give way to hardcourt for the tie with Korea, Republic, as the mid-autumn 6-8 April dates are too late for the grass season. Australia and Korea, Republic haven’t met in Davis Cup since 1972, which was a 5-0 sweep for the Aussies in Seoul.
The Koreans also went 3-0 in their tie against Chinese Taipei, after clinching the doubles in a five-set, four-hour-plus marathon. Yong-Kyu Lim, who came back from two sets down on Friday to put Korea, Republic 1-0 ahead, teamed with Jae-Min Seol (doubles ranking No. 1033) to defeat Chu-Huan Yi and Laing-Chi Huang 64 63 67(4) 36 75 in Gimcheon.
Huang replaced Chinese Taipei’s No.1, Tsung-Hua Yang. The visitors were without their top-ranked player, Yen-Hsun Lu, who was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist and world No. 33 in 2010.
In Tauranga on New Zealand’s North Island, the Kiwis were the only home team to lose in Asia/Oceania Group I. Uzbekistan secured a 3-0 win over their hosts, with Denis Istomin and Farrukh Dustov taking the doubles 64 76 61 over Michael Venus and Daniel King-Turner in less than two hours.
Both teams changed their line-ups for the reverse singles, meaning the No.1s, Istomin and Venus, will not face off in the first match on Sunday. Russian-born Artem Sitak takes on Murad Inoyatov, while King-Turner plays Sarvar Ikramov.
The Uzbeks will host India in April in the Asia/Oceania Group I semifinals, the winner earning a berth in the World Group play-offs. India leads their Davis Cup series 2-1.
Chris Guccione and Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 11/02/12