ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Andrey Golubev defeated Ruben Bemelmans 62 63 61 in the deciding rubber in Astana to secure Kazakhstan a place in the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
David Goffin had kept the visitors in the hunt earlier in the day after he defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 46 63 36 64 60, but Golubev denied Belgium's hopes of a first ever comeback from 0-2 down with an emphatic straight-sets win.
“I am very happy about the result," beamed Golubev. "That was the first time I have played the deciding match so I tried to focus on every point of the match and play my game. I did all my best, trying not to give any chances for my opponent and my game plan worked perfectly."
Kazakh captain Dias Doskarayev added: "I'm very glad that Andrey could handle all the emotions and the pressure of the decisive match having all our team believing in him, including the President of our Federation, who supported us on the stadium all three days.
"In my mind he has shown a Top 10 player game today. And now we’ve got to take time to enjoy this win, we’re in the quarters again. In our next tie we play in Switzerland - the last time we played them we won 5-0 here in Astana and they might be willing the same revenge on us, but we’ll be up for the challenge. The most important thing is to get all our players healthy and ready before the next tie.”
Belgium were 0-2 down after the first day after Kukushkin defeated Bemelmans and Goffin lost a five-set thriller 76(9) 36 46 62 1210 against Golubev.
The fightback started in Saturday's doubles when Bemelmans and Olivier Rochus saw off Kukushkin and Evgeny Korolev before Goffin came from 1-2 sets down to defeat Kukushkin in Sunday's first reverse singles rubber.
The Belgian No. 1 player produced an excellent serving display to deal the world No. 67 just his second singles loss at home on a hard surface.
Goffin seemed to have recovered both physically and mentally from his match against Golubev, with Belgium needing him to win to keep them alive in the tie. Kukushkin was trying to rise his game once again in front of the roaring home crowd.
In the beginning of the match the teams’ leaders Kukushkin and Goffin looked ready to go for another great battle of this tie as both players started the match pretty confidently, both holding their serves with a whole bunch of aces.
In the seventh game two powerful forehands from Kukushkin gave him the first two break points of the match, which he capitalised on with solid baseline play, racing to a 4-3 lead. Though Goffin stood strong to earn a breakpoint for himself right in the next game his chance to break back was denied following a very consistent baseline performance from Kazakh’s top player. Kukushkin’s high first serve percentage helped him to comfortably close out the first set in 37 minutes.
Despite losing the opening set the Belgian got off to the perfect start in the second, breaking Kukushkin in the second game as he increased the power and speed of his groundstrokes to a very high level and rushed to a 3-0 lead. His advantage was short-lived however as Kukushkin stood strong and started to take more risks, producing some fantastic forehand winners and putting more pressure on Goffin’s returns which helped him to break back and level the set at 3 games all.
But the Belgian’s serve was still firing as he easily took his next service game, while Kukushkin double faulted at 30-30 to give the Belgian a breakpoint which he capitalised on, rushing in front again for 5-3. Goffin also began to venture towards the net quite frequently as he produced a fantastic final service game and levelled the match with a powerful body serve.
The players kept serving hard in the third and Goffin continued to come to the net at any opportunity. At 2-3 the two sudden double faults from the Belgian brought Kukushkin another break point and the Kazakh didn’t miss his chance to jump ahead for 5-2 lead and then easily served out the set for two sets to one lead.
An inspired Kukushkin rushed to break Goffin’s serve to 15 in the very first game of the fourth set, but then it was Goffin who put Kukushkin’s serve under considerable pressure to break the Kazakh twice taking the next four games and eventually serving for the set at 5-3. The Kazakh didn’t let his opponent take the set that easily, instantly breaking back to the cheers of the full stadium.
As the set looked as though it was heading to a tiebreak, the Belgian break for the third time to finally seal the set and equal the match at 2-2.
In the decisive set Kukushkin seemed to be much more tired than his opponent, who on the other hand started really taking the initiative and controlling most of the points to demolish Kukushkin 6-0.
The decisive fifth singles rubber was very similar to the first match of the day. While Golubev, just like Goffin, had had a day off the previous day, Bemelmans was playing for the third day in a row just as Kukushkin had, so it looked to be another test of fitness.
David Goffin had advised his teammate after his own match: “Ruben should try to play short points and be aggressive, and try not to get into the long rallies, since his physical condition might be worse than his opponent’s.”
The support of the crowd helped Golubev to an aggressive start, breaking Bemelmans in the third game for a 3-1 lead. He kept putting pressure on the Belgian with very powerful groundstrokes that forced Bemelmans to take risks and make unforced errors. With two beautiful forehand winners Golubev sealed the first set in just 36 minutes.
In the second set the game plan of both players seemed to be quite simple -to attack their opponent's weaker side, trying to use their best weapon. And Golubev was the one who had the most success on that, hitting 10 winners to Bemelmans’ three, and he needed just one break of serve to run away with the second set 6-3.
Bemelmans had some problems with his hips and called for a doctor clos to the end of the second set to have a massage. These problems were definitely not letting the Belgian execute his plan to attack the net.
The third set started with another break of serve for Golubev after Bemelmans played two poor volleys into the net. Bemelmans seemed to become despondent as he kept making unusual unforced errors to give up another serve, while Golubev held his serve strongly to race to a 4-0 lead. A sixth break of serve for Golubev secured the match and booked Kazakhstan a ticket to the quarterfinals where they will face Switzerland.
Golubev saved the only break point in the match that he faced and recorded 40 winners, mostly thanks to his blistering forehand. The match was won in one hour 36 minutes.
Kazakhstan will travel to Switzerland in the quarterfinals.
"It is going to be interesting to play a Swiss team [featuring] the greatest players of tennis history [in Federer and Wawrinka]," said Golubev. "It will not be an easy task for us but we will do our best.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) - 02/02/2014
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 02/02/2014
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) - 02/02/2014
Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) - 02/02/2014
Captain Johan Van Herck (BEL) - 02/02/2014