NEUCHATEL, SWITZERLAND:It was touch and go for a moment in what proved to be a decisive fourth-set tiebreak, but Severin Luthi, the Swiss Davis Cup captain, in the end was vindicated by his decision to go with experience rather than youth when 32-year-old Marco Chiudinelli gave Switzerland a commanding 2-0 lead against Ecuador in their World Group play-off at Patinoire du Littoral in Neuchatel.
The Finnish-born 21-year-old Henri Laaksonen, who has played just one live rubber for his newly adopted country, thought he should have got the nod for the second rubber and when he made his dissatisfaction clear Luthi had no option but to discipline him, leaving him behind at the team’s hotel.
Meanwhile Chiudinelli repaid his captain’s faith in him with a gutsy 36 61 63 76(7) victory over the Ecuadorian No. 1 Julio-Cesar Campozano, staving off two sets points in the fourth-set tiebreak.
Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss No. 1 who had given his country a flying start earlier in the day with a straight sets win, described Laaksonen’s behaviour during training in the past few days as “unacceptable” and was firmly behind his captain’s decision to leave him out.
Luthi commented: “I wasn’t happy with his respect level. I think it’s important for the young guys that they learn about that. First of all I think it’s important that we give our team the best chance to win – you try to have the best atmosphere in the team – and the second thing is that it’s absolutely important that he learns those things - that’s why I took this decision.”
After an exhausting six weeks on the North American swing that culminated in his first Grand Slam semifinal at Flushing Meadows last week, Wawrinka still had enough puff – and class – to put the world No. 340 Emilio Gomez firmly in his place with a 64 63 63 victory in the opening rubber.
Without ever reaching the giddy heights of play that had seen off Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray and very nearly the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in quick succession in New York, Wawrinka signalled Switzerland’s intention to return to the World Group proper next year when they will be hoping Roger Federer lends his not inconsiderable support to their efforts.
The world No. 10 took a few games to find his range and, in fact, was broken first. The 21-year-old Gomez, just two months out of college and son of the old Ecuadorian favourite Andres Gomez, had been encouraged by rumours that Wawrinka had been cramping in New York and had issues with his body. If he had, one hour and 42 minutes of play was not going to be long enough to highlight it.
Gomez’s initial success in the sixth game of the first set was short-lived, Wawrinka breaking straight back and then breaking immediately again to quickly disillusion his young opponent. Whenever threatened – and Wawrinka’s forehand did occasionally misfire – he usually found an extra gear to pull away from the danger.
That was never more obvious than in the eighth game of the second set when the big-hitting Gomez forced four break points only for Wawrinka to hold at the first opportunity. That must have been demoralizing for the young Ecuadorian.
Raul Viver, now in his 20th year as Ecuador captain, had been hoping that Campozano - who had won eight of his 10 previous Davis Cup singles - would square the tie and the Ecuador No. 1 got off to a good enough start.
It was a fairly new experience for Chiudinelli to feel the pressure of favouritism – by his own admission he is usually the underdog in Davis Cup ties – and felt that “the pressure was as big as never before”. However, he eventually found his game – and most importantly his forehand - to come through.
“Stanislas is a big star and is fully expected to win both his singles rubbers, but we still needed a third point and it’s better to get it on the first day rather than the last,” said Chiudinelli. “It was good to take the wind out of their sails – is that the right phrase? It sounds good, anyway.”
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Captain Severin Luthi (SUI) - 13/09/2013
Marco Chiudinelli (SUI) - 13/09/2013
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 13/9/13
Emilio Gomez (ECU) - 13/09/2013