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04 March 2011

Johansson puts Sweden in driving seat



  • Lee Goodall

Photo: BildbyranJoachim Johansson (SWE)

BORAS, SWEDEN: It was a perfect day for Swedish captain Thomas Enqvist and his men after the hosts built a 2-0 overnight lead in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie against Russia in Boras on Friday.

As expected, the in-form Robin Soderling gave the home side the perfect start when he produced a confident performance to overpower Igor Andreev 63 63 61, before world No. 749 Joachim Johansson turned back the clock to show the kind of form that took him into the Top 10 in the world six years ago to get past Russian No. 1 Teymuraz Gabashvili 63 76(4) 64.

The Russians will be wondering what hit them as they retreat to the southern Swedish town’s Grand Hotel this evening. Soderling is well known for his brutal, power tennis, but Johansson, or Pim Pim as he’s affectionately known in these parts, produced the kind of crash-bang-wallop shotmaking that had to be seen to be believed. Regularly, he clocked serves well over 230kmh, while one thundered down at 241kmh at the start of the third set, just 8kmh slower than Andy Roddick’s fastest of all time.

The results of the opening day’s play leaves Russian hopes of reaching the quarterfinals hanging by a thread. They must start to rebuild in Saturday’s doubles when Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Kunitsyn will try to put a point on the board when they take on Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin.

Every one of the 2,900-plus fans inside the intimate, noisy and sold out Borashallen arena would have been expecting world No.4 Soderling to deliver against an opponent ranked 93 places below him and he didn’t disappoint. The Swede broke Andreev in the fourth game of the match and, but for a wobbly five minutes when serving out the opener which saw him save five break points and wrap the game up on his sixth set point, he was always in control.

The Swede has already notched up three ATP singles titles this season and entered the tie with an impressive 17-1 win-loss record for the year. Once the opening set was under his belt, he turned on the style and had far too much power and precision for his Russian opponent.

“From the start I was hitting the ball well, I was moving well and after I got the first break I felt in control of the match,” said Soderling, who now owns a 13-3 Davis Cup singles record and who is unbeaten in singles since 2008.

In contrast to their No. 1 player, it would be fair to say many of the Swedish fans probably didn’t know quite what to expect when Johansson stepped on court. The 28-year-old had played just three matches in the last two seasons going into today’s contest after shoulder and elbow problems derailed his career after that brief spell inside the top ten.

If the 6ft 6in right-hander needed any encouragement to return to the tour full time then his performance to blow away the Russian world No. 76 will surely be the perfect tonic. His serving was incredible throughout - both his first and second deliveries - and his forehand simply ferocious as he set about bullying Gabashvili.

In contrast, the Russian looked edgy. His opening service game featured two double faults and the final game of the match saw him miss an easy forehand and throw in his eighth double fault as Johansson edged towards the finish line.

In truth, though, the match was won towards the end of the second set, which had seen Gabashvili fight off six break points as the men moved towards a shoot-out. Gabashvili had been impressive to stick to the Swede for so long, but once into the breaker, Johansson’s serving proved decisive as he bludgeoned his way to a 7-4 success and a two sets lead.

After clobbering down an eye-watering 33 aces during 2 hours 37 minutes on court, the Swede said afterwards that it was his second serve that had given him the most satisfaction.

“Since my first shoulder surgery I haven’t really served that well on the second serve,” he revealed, “but in the last month I’ve been trying to step it up and hit every second serve around the 200kmh mark. I’m really happy with that and I only hit one double fault today.

“It’s always tough when you haven’t played many matches but this is the level I feel like I’ve been producing in practice. There was only one service game when he pushed me and I had a lot of break points. Everything I practiced with my coach Magnus Norman over the past month paid off.”

Not surprisingly after watching his team notch up six sets without reply, captain Enqvist wore a wide smile as the fans filtered out into the cold night air. “Very, very happy,” was his assessment of the opening day’s play, before issuing a warning to any of the locals who think it’s a case of job done. “One match at a time, we need to focus tomorrow and there’s still a lot of tennis left to play.”

Robin Soderling (SWE) - 04/03/2011

Captain Thomas Enqvist (SWE)

Joachim Johansson (SWE) - 04/03/2011

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