ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakh No. 1 Mikhail Kukushkin will take to the court first on Friday against Ruben Bemelmans, a player ranked almost 100 places lower in the rankings.
The draw for the first meeting between Kazakhstan and Belgium took place in a chamber hall of the recently opened opera house “Astana Opera”. It is a unique theatre with rare decoration, richness and elegance.
“I’m ready to lead my team, but it’s a competition, where you can’t win alone, so the main thing is that all our team is ready to fight and win during these three days”, admitted Kukushkin.
Belgium retained its place in the World Group after a hard-fought win over Israel in World Group play-offs last September. The decisive fifth rubber of that tie was clinched by Steve Darcis, who’s missing this tie due to injury.
Following the absence of Darcis, the guests’ hopes are all pinned on top player David Goffin who faces Kazakh No. 2 Andrey Golubev.
“I am ready to go on court in the upcoming matches of the Davis Cup. I had a great pre-season training where my goal was to get in a good physical form precisely for this tournament. I didn’t play many matches this season, so I feel really fresh and ready,” said Goffin.
The two never met on tour previously. Golubev returned to the top 100 at the end of last year, winning a Challenger event in Russia, but was forced to withdraw with a calf injury in the first round of the Australian Open against eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka.
But Golubev has calmed down his fans: “The injury that I got in that match doesn't disturb me anymore. I have completely healed it and I’ve been already practicing for two weeks without any problems, so I’m in a good form and ready to compete.”
Golubev has been extremely successful in previous years playing on home soil in Davis Cup singles rubbers, having suffered his lone loss to Lukas Rosol in last year’s quarterfinal against the Czech Republic.
Both teams’ captains didn’t expect any surprises from their opponents towards the choice of the singles players, so the draw just decided who would come out on court first.
Kazakh captain Dias Doskarayev added: “The whole team is perfectly ready and all the guys are in a good mood. Though Kazakhstan can consider itself as the favourite only on paper according to our players’ higher rankings. It is a tournament where everything is possible and the history has already showed more than once directly on our example that the rankings don’t play a serious role here.
“There is an external factor of a slight pressure on our players due to their higher position in the rankings, but the determining factor in my opinion is the readiness of each individual player to a certain match”.
The Kazakh side also debuts a young local player Denis Yevseyev, who’s currently No. 656 in the rankings. He is up to play a doubles match partnering Evgeny Korolev. They will face a pair of Belgium veteran Olivier Rochus and another Davis Cup debutant Kimmer Coppejans.
Yevseyev said: “It’s a great responsibility for me to be on the team and I’m already overwhelmed. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and in case I would like to take all the advantage of this opportunity”.
Belgium captain Johan van Herck, who brought his squad to Kazakhstan just three days ahead of the tie was forced to face the first challenge from a strong cold wind with the temperature outside below -30.
The guests’ captain was also well aware of the Kazakh team’s Davis Cup success in the last years:
“We know that Kazakh team is very strong and solid, especially at home. It has two players from the top 100. But it is Davis Cup event where the players have to play matches the best of five sets, so everything can happen.
"We estimate our chances like 50-50, but I’m confident with my team even if we play away, because our every player is ready to make all possible efforts during the match.”
“We are in a great mood, we are ready and we are looking forward to these matches”.
Belgium is bidding to reach the World Group quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 when they fell to Germany at this stage.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) v Ruben Bemelmans (BEL)
R2: Andrey Golubev (KAZ) v David Goffin (BEL)
R3: Evgeny Korolev / Denis Yevseyev (KAZ) v Kimmer Coppejans / Olivier Rochus (BEL)
R4: Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) v David Goffin (BEL)
R5: Andrey Golubev (KAZ) v Ruben Bemelmans (BEL)
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 30/01/2014
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) - 30/01/2014
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 30/01/2014