TOKYO, JAPAN: Japan and Colombia are deadlocked 1-1 after the first day of their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off at the Ariake Coliseum on Friday.
Kei Nishikori defeated Alejandro Falla in straight sets 63 64 64 in the opening singles match, before Santiago Giraldo outlasted Go Soeda in five sets 64 36 75 36 61 in the second contest to level the tie.
Japan No. 1 Nishikori prevailed in a baseline battle and was especially proficient with his trademark forehand, which he used to rack up 16 winners to Falla's six. Nishikori needed just one hour 50 minutes to complete the triumph over Colombia No. 2 Falla.
The 23-year-old Nishikori was encouraged by his performance.
"I was happy with my play today," he said. "It was good for me and the team that I could wrap it up in three sets. I prepared well and I felt positive throughout the match."
Nishikori provided his own analysis of the win.
"My serve was on and I had good speed and direction," he noted. "The serve connects to the strokes, so it is important. I also returned well."
The Shimane native, ranked 12th in the world, took the first game of the match at love on serve and broke twice as he wrapped up the opening set in 30 minutes indoors on the hardcourt.
Falla, ranked 93rd, broke Nishikori in the fifth game to go up 3-2, but Nishikori responded by breaking right back against the southpaw to level at 3-3, then held serve and broke again to move ahead 5-3.
The second set was on serve until the ninth game when Nishikori broke with a wicked crosscourt forehand to take a 5-4 advantage and then closed out the set on serve.
The third set provided more of the same, as Nishikori held serve and broke in the ninth game to move in front 5-4 before completing the victory on serve.
"I could not find my rhythm at the start," said Falla. "I did not return well. If I had returned better, the match would have been closer."
Nishikori, who was knocked out of the US Open in the first round last month, said the early departure helped sharpen his game.
"I was disappointed by the result at the US Open, but I was able to get in more practice after that," he stated. "I hope success here at the Davis Cup will help me on the Tour."
Colombia No. 1 Giraldo, ranked 85th, appeared to have the momentum after winning the fourth set, but Japan No. 2 Soeda fought back before the home crowd and forced a fifth set.
The final set began with three straight breaks of serve, before Giraldo held to take a 3-1 lead. The Colombian then took charge and broke again in the fifth game and never looked back.
Giraldo's strong serve - he had 25 aces - helped him prevail despite committing 103 unforced errors against his 131st-ranked foe.
"I was proud of how I played and stayed mentally focused on the court," said Giraldo. "So played a strong match today. He gave me a challenge."
Colombia's Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah will battle Nishikori and Soeda in Saturday's doubles.
Nishikori will play Giraldo in the first reverse singles match on Sunday, with the Soeda taking on Falla in the second.
Japan was knocked out of World Group last September after a 3-2 loss to Israel at Ariake. Japan had returned to the top level for the first time in 27 years, but was unable to stay there. It defeated Korea 3-2 in April to advance to the play-off.
Colombia is trying to earn a spot in the World Group for the first time.
This is the first meeting ever between Japan and Colombia.
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Kei Nishikori (JPN) - 13/09/2013
Santiago Giraldo (COL) - 13/09/2013