TOKYO, JAPAN: Japan took a 2-1 lead over Canada with a four-set victory 63 76(3) 46 64 in doubles on Saturday in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first-round match.
Japan's Kei Nishikori and Yasutaka Uchiyama relied on their speed and agility to defeat the taller Frank Dancevic and Daniel Nestor indoors on the hardcourt at Ariake Colosseum.
Japan is trying to advance to the second round of the World Group for the first time, and will go for the victory in Sunday's reverse singles where Nishikori will battle Dancevic, while Go Soeda takes on Peter Polansky.
"Our goal has always been to make the quarterfinals," said Japan captain Minoru Ueda. "I thought Nishikori and Uchiyama played well together today. I selected Nishikori for doubles because of his quick reactions. Uchiyama has shown a good attitude and a strong motivation in practice to win doubles matches."
With the tie level at 1 1 heading into the doubles, both captains chose to insert their No. 1 players (Nishkori and Dancevic) into the lineup. Nishikori replaced Yuichi Sugita, while Dancevic subbed for Vasek Pospisil.
Dancevic and Nestor hit several sublime passing shots for winners in the defeat, but Japan repeatedly came through with big shots at crucial junctures of the match.
Japan grabbed the initiative early in the first set when they broke in the third game to go up 2-1. Nishikori looked sharp following his three-set win over Peter Polansky on Friday. Nishikori's ace gave Japan a 5-3 lead.
The set remained on serve until the ninth game, when Japan broke again to claim it 63 on a beautiful lob by Nishikori.
With Canada up a break and serving for the set at 5-4, Japan dug in and broke to make it 5-5. Japan moved ahead 6-5 after a strong service game from Nishikori.
Canada held to force a tiebreak and went up 2-1. Japan responded with three straight points for a 4-2 lead, with Nishikori ripping a backhand return to make it a two-point edge.
After Canada pulled within one at 4-3, Japan tore off the last three points to take the tiebreak 7-3 and go up 2-0.
Japan broke to go up 3-2 in the third set when Nishikori ripped a forehand winner, but the Canadians were undaunted and broke back to even it 3-3.
Dancevic and Nestor played well from the baseline as the set stayed on serve and Canada claimed it 6-4. Nishikori and Uchiyama had 15 unforced errors in the set.
Japan broke in the opening game of the final set. With a 5-3 advantage, Japan had two match points on Canada's serve but could not capitalise.
But the hosts brought the affair to an end 6-4 in the next game at love behind a strong serve from Uchiyama.
"My teammate served very well today," said Nishikori. "We kept encouraging each other throughout the match. I'm very happy with the results"
Nishikori rarely plays doubles, so he was pleased with the teamwork he and Uchiyama displayed in the triumph.
"I thought we played well together," Nishikori stated. "I usually don't practice much at doubles. Maybe just three or four times a year."
Uchiyama said he focused on concentrating and not thinking too much.
"I just wanted to fight today and see how I could play my best," said Uchiyama. "I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself like I have in the past playing Davis Cup."
Nestor was concise with his analysis of the contest.
"They were the better team. They deserved to win," he stated. "They took advantage of our errors."
Dancevic gave credit to both Nishikori and Uchiyama.
"Both guys were sharp and played really well," he commented.
"We need to win the next two matches," said Canada captain Martin Laurendeau. "We did it in Ecuador a few years go. It will be difficult, but we can do it."
Sunday's reverse singles will see Nishikori battle Dancevic, while Go Soeda takes on Peter Polansky.
Canada was hit by some bad luck ahead of the tie. Top-ranked Milos Raonic was forced to withdraw from with a foot injury, while Vasek Pospisil, who was originally slated to play doubles on Saturday, was unable to recover in time from an injury. Both were hurt at the Australian Open last month.
"Our top two players have injuries and can't play," noted Laurendeau. "They ran out of time to play in the tie. We are going to come with all we have tomorrow."
Japan beat Colombia 3 2 last September to return to the World Group following a one-year absence.
Canada lost in the semifinals last fall to Serbia 3-2.
Japan has a 5-0 record against Canada in Davis Cup play, but the two countries have not played each other since 1938.
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Captain Martin Laurendeau (CAN)