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12 February 2012

Karlovic fires Croatia into quarterfinals



  • Fred Varcoe

Photo: Takeo TanumaIvo Karlovic (CRO)

HYOGO, JAPAN: Ivo Karlovic finished off a perfect weekend by beating Go Soeda in the fifth match of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie between Japan and Croatia on Sunday, sealing a 3-2 win for the Croatians.

Karlovic beat Soeda 76(4) 61 64 in under two hours. It was his third victory of the weekend, having beaten Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori on Friday and having partnered Ivan Dodig to victory against Yuichi Sugita and Tatsuma Ito in the doubles on Saturday. In the tie’s other matches, Soeda defeated Dodig on Friday and Nishikori did likewise on Sunday, a win that evened the tie at 2-2.

“I’m feeling very proud of my team,” Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan commented in the post-match press conference. Croatia will next play Argentina in Argentina and Krajan is confident of doing well there. “The way Ivo is playing at the moment, it’s going to be tough for any team to beat Croatia. The statistics tell the story: He played two singles matches and didn’t face one break point.”

Krajan was quick to point out that it wasn’t a walkover against a Japan team that was back in the World Group for the first time in 26 years.

“Japan has a great team, especially with how Kei’s played in the last month, and they will surely go on to win matches in the World Group,” he said. “But I’m very proud of my guys, including Ivan, who left his heart on the court in both singles matches and was maybe a bit unlucky.”

Karlovic expressed satisfaction with his performance and that of his team.

“I am really happy because we won and in the end that is the most important,” Karlovic said afterwards. “I was playing well and my serves were really good and it was a really good week for me.”

Soeda battled hard in the first set to stay level with the 208cm Karlovic and neither player gave up a break point in the set. In the tiebreaker, Karlovic took the lead for good at 4-3 and brought up setpoint with an ace. Soeda then slugged a forehand into the net and Croatia were 1-0 up.

The two players went different ways in the second set. Karlovic gave up just two points on his serve and Soeda was finding the pressure hard to deal with, errors by the Japanese player making Karlovic’s job even easier. Soeda was broken in the fourth and sixth games and the writing was on the wall for Japan.

In the first game of the third set, the Japan No. 2 sent three successive forehands into the net as he dropped his serve and with Karlovic’s serve unbreakable, the tie was all but over. After Soeda pushed Karlovic to 5-4, the Croatian decided it was time to go home and slammed down three monster serves to end the match.

In the earlier game, Nishikori lived up to his home fans’ expectations by overcoming Dodig 75 76(4) 63 in a match that lasted just under three hours.

Nishikori only managed to win three points in the first three games and double-faulted twice in his first service game. Dodig got into his serving rhythm quickly to put the Japanese No. 1 under early pressure.

“I was nervous all morning because if I lost, it would be the end of the tie for us,” Nishikori admitted. “I was shaky till 3-5 in the first set, but after that I was fine and my footwork started to get better, I concentrated more and started to be more aggressive.”

Nishikori had his first break chance in Dodig’s fourth service game, but the Croatian came up with his fifth and sixth aces to go 5-2 up. With a first-set loss staring him in the face, Nishikori cranked up the pressure on the Dodig serve and played a superb ninth game, breaking the Croatian with a stinging backhand service return down the left line.

Nishikori breezed through his next service game to draw level at 5-5 and then attacked Dodig again. A brilliant pinpoint lob brought him his second breakpoint of the 11th game and then he sent a second serve from Dodig into the left-hand corner, which the Croatian could only slap into the net. Nishikori then served out to love and was 1-0 up after a 58-minute first set.

A beautiful forehand dropshot from the baseline enabled Nishikori to break Dodig in the first game of the second set and the Japanese player had two break points at 15-40 in Dodig’s next service game. But Dodig’s eighth, ninth and 10th aces brought him relief and he used the momentum to break his Japanese opponent in the next game after some sloppy play by Nishikori.

Dodig, who had looked tired at the end of the first set, was suddenly back in the match. Neither player gave up any more break points and the set went to a tiebreak. Dodig didn’t do himself any favours when he served his fourth double fault of the match to fall behind 3-2 and Nishikori used his next two service points to take a 5-2 lead. A cool service return ace gave the Japanese player three setpoints and Japan were 2-0 up after Dodig planted a forehand service return into the net.

“It was a very tough match, especially the first two sets,” Dodig said. “In the first set, I had some chances that I didn’t use and I was unlucky on some points. The whole match was very close and it was a really good match. He played really good and didn’t give me many chances, and he played some great shots. In the end, he deserved to win. He’s got quality so you have to play your best tennis to overcome him.”

Nishikori earned his second breakpoint of the third set with a lovely crosscourt backhand passing shot and was 3-1 up when Dodig planted a backhand into the net. But Dodig fought back and when a Nishikori backhand found the net after a long rally, he had his break back.

Nishikori quickly went 40-0 up on Dodig’s serve but then took his foot off the gas and allowed Dodig to recover to 3-3. But Dodig was soon under pressure again and his fifth double fault of the match handed Nishikori another chance.

Japan’s top player sent a forehand passing shot fizzing past the Croatian to go 5-3 up and all he had to do then was hold his serve, which he did to love, ending with only his second service ace of the match.

Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi, who is stepping down after eight years in charge, was also proud of his team.

“My players are younger than those in the other teams, so I think the future looks bright for Japan,” he said. “But we need our players to get into the top 100 and gain more experience of five-set matches in the grand slams and Davis Cup. We’ve had quite a few losses in recent years, but now things are looking up.”

Captain Eiji Takeuchi (JPN) - 12/02/2012

Ivo Karlovic (CRO) - 12/02/2012

Captain Zeljko Krajan (CRO) - 12/02/2012

Kei Nishikori (JPN) - 12/02/2012

  • More photos

    • Ivo Karlovic (CRO)Ivo Karlovic (CRO)
    • Go Soeda (JPN) and the Japanese benchGo Soeda (JPN)
    • Ivo Karlovic (CRO) and the Croatian teamKei Nishikori (JPN) and Ivan Dodig (CRO)
    • Kei Nishikori (JPN)Kei Nishikori (JPN)
    • Kei Nishikori (JPN)Ivan Dodig (CRO)
    • Ivan Dodig (CRO)Ivan Dodig (CRO)

    2 : 3

    Bourbon Beans Dome, Hyogo, Japan

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    Fred Varcoe

    Fred Varcoe has been writing about sports in Japan for 25 years. He is former sports editor of The Japan Times, where he worked for 15 years, and is now sports editor of Tokyo magazine Metropolis. He has covered sports for UPI and Reuters and also works as an editor/writer for the Japan Football Association and the International Volleyball Federation.





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