Australia have taken a 2-0 lead in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Zone Group I second round tie with Korea, Rep in Brisbane. Aussie No.1 Bernard Tomic shook off a nervy start to beat Min-Hyeok Cho 75 63 63, before Matthew Ebden, playing his first live davis Cup rubber, defeated Suk-Young Jeong 63 63 64.
The straight-sets scoreline gives no hint of the trouble Tomic faced in the first set. If the boisterous Aussie Fanatics in Pat Rafter Arena were expecting a quick kill against the unranked 25-year-old Cho, they were made to wait, as the Korean threw down the challenge to the Aussie Goliath, nervelessly breaking in the opening game and going to 3-1 before Tomic started to turn the tide, winning four of the next five games. Even then, he was assisted by a couple of critical line-calls.
Leading an Australian team minus Lleyton Hewitt (who was courtside Friday), Tomic had spoken of the responsibility he felt; in those uncomfortable first few games, he played like he had Ayers Rock on his back. Long, floating rallies with Cho deprived him of the pace he is accustomed to toying with, and a few straight-legged dropshots in the early games told of his tentativeness. For his part, Cho was not flustered by Tomic’s ‘funky-junky’ style, and showed impressive speed in getting to dropshots.
But as Tomic’s touch improved on his favourite soft balls, so did his confidence, and he opened up the shoulders to land a couple of big winners and bring up set points in the first stanza. Cho saved a couple but when Tomic broke to seal the set 75 and sat in his courtside chair, the relief told on captain Pat Rafter, who buried his head in a towel.
Rafter has spoken of Tomic’s greater difficulty in getting up for lesser opponents and matches. Exhibit A was today. But the win is another tick in the Davis Cup resume, which now stands at 6-1. “He started really well and I was a bit tight,” Tomic admitted. “I was a little bit down, the crowd got me up.”
Crowd support and energy stayed high as West Australian Ebden, ranked a career-high 75, took on 18-year-old Jeong, ranked 730, in the second rubber. The Aussie opened with an ace but short-and-sweet points were hard to come by in the first set, which featured long, searching rallies.
Ebden broke for 5-3 and served out the first set. Jeong gamely kept plugging away and led 2-0 in the second but was never ahead in the match again, a five-game streak giving the Aussie the second set and a 1-0 serving advantage in the third.
For 24-year-old Ebden, it was a comfortable first live Cup rubber. His captain’s final words of advice before the match: “Just don’t choke.” Count on Rafter to keep it simple.
Despite their heavy underdog status, Korea competed in the World Group more recently than traditional power Australia, losing to Germany in 2008. In Brisbane though, the Koreans are without their top six players.
Chris Guccione, the veteran of the Aussie side in his 13th tie, teams with Marinko Matosevic in doubles for the first time on Saturday, against Jeong and Jae-Min Seol. Play begins at 1pm local time.
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India feels the heat
In Namangan, Uzbekistan, the host nation also swept the opening day’s singles without the loss of a set, to go 2-0 up in its Asia/Oceania semifinal against India.
Uzbek No.1 Denis Istomin was clinical in dispatching Davis Cup debutant Sanam Singh, ranked almost 400 places below him, 63 62 64 in less than two hours. Farrukh Dustov was similarly untroubled in defeating Yuki Bhambri 64 64 63. The 19-year-old Indian was playing in his first live Cup rubber.
The clay court at the Sport Complex Pahlavon was imported from snowy Moscow but the steamy indoor conditions had the visitors almost feeling at home. Sauna-like heat settled on the converted basketball stadium, despite the addition of 12 massive air-conditioning units over the past two days. Construction of the court itself began a month ago. The playing surface was praised by both teams.
Namangan, in the far east of Uzbekistan, is a lucky venue for the locals. Uzbekistan’s third-largest city has hosted four previous Davis Cup ties for a 4-0 sweep to the home team.
Despite their dominance in singles, Istomin and Dustov are the underdogs for Saturday’s doubles rubber against the vastly experienced Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, both top 10 doubles players. The 38-year-old Paes, who debuted in the competition back in 1990, is 38-9 in doubles matches. This is the rubber India expects to win to keep them alive. Play begins at noon on Saturday.
Chinese Taipei battle back in epic first day
In Kaohsiung, it’s 1-1 in the playoff tie between hosts Chinese Taipei and China, PR after a long and exciting first day.
Rain delayed the start of play on the hardcourts of Kaohsiung Yangming, before local No.1 Tsung-Hua Yang and Di Wu battled for almost four hours in a dramatic first rubber. The 20-year-old Wu again played well above his ranking of 495, repeating a stunning upset of the big-serving, 178-ranked Yang - 64 26 76(0) 36 86. Little more than a year ago in Shanghai, Wu clinched China’s win over Chinese Taipei in the fifth rubber over Yang.
Yang led 6-5 in the fifth, poised to pressure the Wu serve and, the expectant crowd sensed, clinch the first point for Chinese Taipei. Suddenly, he was stricken by cramp for the first time in his career. The 21-year-old fought on but could barely move, taking just one point in the final three games. It was a bitter denouement to a high quality match and for Yang, all the more disappointing because he had prepared so hard both physically and mentally.
“Losing a match like this on home soil was obviously devastating,” he admitted. “But I am ready to bounce back and get the ‘W’ in my next match for the team.” Yang has Saturday to recover before the reverse singles on Sunday.
In the second rubber, veteran Jimmy Wang wrenched back the momentum for the home team, subduing China’s No.1 Ze Zhang 63 64 36 62. The 27-year-old extended his Davis Cup winning record to 23-11, the most wins of any player from Chinese Taipei. Zhang has improved his ranking to 235, but continues to struggle in Davis Cup, dropping to 2-10 in singles rubbers.
Saturday’s doubles gets underway at 2pm, with Hsin-Han Lee and Cheng-Peng Hsieh taking on Zhang and Zhe Li.
Chinese Taipei leads 2-1 in its Davis Cup meetings with China but lost their previous match in March last year. The winner in Kaohsiung remains in Asia/Oceania Group 1, while the loser faces New Zealand in September in a relegation tie.