ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan boosted their hopes of reaching a third Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal after a dramatic opening day of action against Belgium in Astana.
Mikhail Kukushkin put Kazakhstan 1-0 up when he secured a 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ruben Bemelmans, before Andrey Golubev increased the host’s lead when he outlasted Belgian No. 1 David Goffin 7-6(9), 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 12-10 in four hours and 38 minutes, saving match points on his way to a thrilling victory.
Speaking after the match, Golubev said: "This is one of my best wins. David is very talented player, who has a great tennis future, and I had to keep the bar high enough to have any chance of victory. He’s not made from iron though, that’s what I kept in my mind [during the match]."
Spectators arrived at The National Tennis Center for the first day of play expecting entertainment but no one could have anticiated the epic battle that played out in the second rubber.
World No. 111 Goffin, who struggled with a thigh injury last year, didn’t seem to be lacking any firepower as he broke serve in the third game of the opening set, producing variety from the baseline and angled drives that left Golubev scrambling.
But the Kazkakh No. 2, buoyed on by the home support, gradually worked his way back into the opening set with a combination of aggressive returning and solid play, recovering from 2-5 down to force a tiebreak, which he eventually won 11-9.
Golubev failed to build on his one-set lead, however, and Goffin came storming back, taking advantage of some inconsistency and wayward serving from the Kazakh to take the second and third sets.
Golubev appeared fatigued at the beginning of the fourth but to the joy of the crowd he upped his level once more, dictating with his forehand and holding serve comfortably to force a fifth set.
An early break in the fifth put Golubev in control of the decisive set but a loose game on serve at 4-3 handed Goffin a lifeline. The Kazakh dug deep, however, eventually clinching the win in the 22nd game of the set as the home support at the National Tennis Centre rose to their feet in delight.
After the match Goffin could barely hide his disappointment, but said: “Today I played a very good match and fought till the end. I am upset that I didn’t win but I did my best. This is one of the longest matches in my career and I cannot remember when I played so long like today. There are no regrets about the result. During some moments he served very good and played very aggressively from the baseline. So what can I say about this match? This is just our life.”
Earlier in the day Kukushkin clinched his fist match-win of the season when he produced an outstanding performance against Bemelmans to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. The Kazakh kept the Belgian, who is being coached by the recently retired Xavier Malisse, pinned back with a barrage of deep drives throughout the contest.
Kazakhstan’s impressive home record looks set to continue after Friday’s action but captain Doskarayev is refusing to get ahead of himself.
“It is too early to relax now because tomorrow we will have a very important doubles match, where I hope players will show their best,” he said. “Of course, I am very happy that we are leading 2-0 after the first day, because the 1st day is the most important. Andrey and Mikhail have shown a very high quality, so it was a great luck for the whole crowd to see such magnificent matches alive.”
Tomorrow’s doubles match, which gets underway at 08:00 GMT on Saturday, is a must-win for the Belgians, who have never won a tie after being 0-2 down. Denis Yevseev and Yevgeniy Korolev will take one Kimmer Coppejans and Olivier Rochus, who have been tasked with the challenge of rescuing the tie for the visitors.
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