ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Experienced Belgian pairing Ruben Bemelmans and Olivier Rochus battled past Evgeny Korolev and Mikhail Kukushkin 62 67(4) 63 76(4) to prevent a Kazakh whitewash and force a deciding day of play in Astana.
Both team captains made late changes ahead of the doubles rubber, with debutants Denis Yevseyev of Kazakhstan and Kimmer Koppejans of Belgium making way for first-time doubles nominee Kukushkin and the more experienced Bemelmans.
Belgian captain Johan van Herck’s choice of an experienced duo that has played together since 2010 had too much for Doskarayev’s experimental selection, with Kukushkin going into unchartered territory in his first doubles rubber and Korolev still seeking his first doubles rubber triumph following three previous unsuccessful attempts.
Veteran Belgian Rochus was the most experienced doubles player amongst the four on Satuday, having won two Tour-level doubles titles, but he held a negative 6-13 record in Davis Cup doubles matches going into the tie with only one of those six triumphs coming on hard court. Rochus and Bemelmans have gelled well together over the last four years and reached the semifinals at a Challenger event in Germany last month.
Their opponents. Kukushkin and Korolev, have each enjoyed their best doubles results when partnering Davis Cup teammate Andrey Golubev, with Kukushkin reaching the final of a Challenger in Astana alongside Golubev, while Korolev and Golubev won a Challenger in Germany.
In Saturday’s all-important rubber, the Belgians capitalised on several forehand errors from Kukushkin to give the Belgian’s the first break of serve in the first set in the fifth game and though the Kazakhs rushed to earn two break point opportunities in the very next game, they failed to capitalise. The Belgians remained strong, and broke Korolev’s serve to love to take the first set 62.
In the second set the Belgians made a point of targeting 26-year-old Korolev, who was routinely struggling with his volleys and threw in a host of unforced errors from his backhand. The Belgians broke again for a 4-2 lead, but the Kazakh team hit back on their seventh break point of the match to bring the second set back level. A close-run tiebreak swung the way of Kazakhstan when, at 4-4, Kukushkin made two powerful forehand passing shots as the hosts pinched the second set in 71 minutes.
The Belgians continuously attacked the net as the Kazakh duo found themselves in a deeply defensive position, and they needed just one early break of serve to seal the third set. The two teams traded breaks early in the fourth set and Kazakhstan held three set points on Rochus’ serve at 6-5, but a series of unforced errors from Korolev gave Belgium the chance and the duly seized it, rallying through to seal victory in just under four hours.
“Ruben’s game has completely met our expectations in this match and I think he played some great tennis out there today.," explained Belgian captain johan van Herck. "We hope that David Goffin is going to level the tie tomorrow and everything will be decided in the fifth rubber.”
”We played together for the first time and today was a really tough match," said Kukushkin. "We felt some pressure because we had many moments to close the tie with the score 3-0. During the first set we were just trying to find our rhythm on the court, in the second set we used our chances. We had many chances to win the fourth set and if we had taken it the result could be different."
Belgium is back in the big time and is looking to win its first World Group tie since 2007, when it defeated Australia in the first round.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 01/02/2014
Captain Johan Van Herck (BEL) - 01/02/2014
Evgeny Korolev/Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) - 01/02/2014
Olivier Rochus/Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) - 01/02/2014