TOKYO, JAPAN: A four-set victory by Israel No. 2 Amir Weintraub in the decisive fifth rubber lifted his nation to a 3-2 victory over Japan in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off at the Ariake Coliseum on Sunday.
Weintraub defeated Japan No. 2 Go Soeda 63 76(5) 46 63 in the reverse singles to send his team into the World Group in 2013, while the loss relegates Japan, who had returned to the top division this season after a 27-year absence, to Asia/Oceania Zone Group I.
Weintraub, ranked No. 223, came up big for his country in the tie, as he also beat Tatsuma Ito in straight sets on Friday. "After the way I played Friday, I knew anything was possible," Weintraub said. Soeda, No. 53 in the rankings, had beaten Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela in four sets on Friday.
Weintraub began cramping in his legs in the third set and appeared to be in trouble, but in the first game of the fourth set it began raining and play was stopped to close the roof.
When play restarted the Israeli looked rejuvenated and saved seven break points in the delayed first game, before finishing off Soeda behind a strong serve in 3 hours 23 minutes. Weintraub came out on top despite having 75 unforced errors to Soeda's 52.
"I hurt my right hamstring in the third set. The break really helped me. I got treatment and was able to come back," said the 25-year-old Weintraub. "I knew I could not run much after that, so I started really going for it.
Israel captain Eyal Ran put the result into perspective. "This was an amazing tie. Everybody fought so hard," said Ran. "All the players on the court today were heroes. The Japanese did everything they could. We are very happy with this victory because it puts up back in the World Group where I think we deserve to be."
"I appreciate that my players give it their very best until the end," said Japan captain Toshiro Sakai. "We are very sorry we lost."
Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori outlasted Sela in a five-set marathon 63 36 46 64 75 in the opening reverse singles match earlier on Sunday. That battle lasted 4 hours 31 minutes and featured some incredible shot-making by both players.
Nishikori prevailed by sheer force of will, as he looked completely spent in the third set, only to come back and take the final two sets. The Japanese player had 102 unforced errors to his opponent's 73, but still managed to come out on top. He slugged away from the baseline and ripped several forehand winners on the way to victory.
"It was a tough match. I was cramping in the second and third sets and thought I would not be able to win," said Nishikori.
Nishikori said he felt extra responsibility after not being able to play in Friday's opening singles due to a shoulder injury. He was declared fit following a medical examination on Sunday morning.
"I couldn't let everybody down today because I had already let them down on Friday," he said. "I had to find a way to win."
The crafty Sela, ranked No. 98, was especially proficient with dropshots and backhand volleys throughout. He even threw in a few lobs late in the contest.
"He played better in the big moments and deserved to win," stated Sela after the tough loss.
Behind a strong forehand and steady serve, Nishikori broke Sela in the fourth and sixth games and claimed the first set 6-3 in 37 minutes. Nishikori, ranked No. 16 in the world, converted 100 percent (9 for 9) of his second serves in the set.
Sela fought back, breaking Nishikori in the fourth and six games, to take the second set 6-3. Nishikori committed 18 unforced errors as the Israeli levelled the match.
The third set was on serve until the ninth game, when Sela break to go up 5-3. With the game on the fourth deuce, Sela played a circus shot between his legs to gain break point following a drop shot from Nishikori. The 22-year-old Nishikori appeared fatigued in the third set, while the experienced Sela, 27, looked refreshed.
"We played some long rallies and he appeared to be cramping in his legs," said Sela. "After I won that set I thought was going to win the match.
Sela had a break point in the third game of the fourth set, but could not capitalise and Nishikori held to move ahead 2-1. After Sela won his service game to make it 2-2, Nishikori struggled mightily not to be broken in a lengthy fifth game. He finally took a 3-2 lead when Sela came to the net but couldn't handle a forehand.
After quickly taking the seventh game on serve, Nishikori squandered a golden opportunity in the eighth, when he had three breaks points could not take advantage. Sela ran off five straight points to make it 4-4. Nishikori then held and grabbed the set 6-4 by breaking Sela. The Israeli double-faulted on set point.
"In the fourth set there were five or six break points that I had the chance to win and didn't," said Sela.
The players exchanged breaks in the fifth set and then were on serve until the ninth game, when Sela earned a break point but could not convert. Nishikori held to lead 5-4. They stayed on serve until the 12th game, when with Nishikori leading 6-5, he broke Sela to clinch the match.
Nishikori said he was overcome by his feeings after the triumph. "I was very emotional on the court, which is very unusual for me. You are part of a team in Davis Cup, so it really means something."
Amir Weintraub (ISR) - 16/09/2012
Captain Eyal Ran (ISR) - 16/09/2012
Kei Nishikori (JPN) - 16/09/2012