There was no denying that this weekend’s Zone Group 1 play-off tie between Finland and Poland presented a bit of an awkward situation for a member of the Finnish team.
Finland’s usual Davis Cup captain is Kim Tiilikainen, whose regular day job is as Poland team member, Jerzy Janowicz’s, coach. Tiilikainen, a Helsinki native, is married to a Polish woman and resides in Poland.
To avoid an uncomfortable situation, Tiilikainen decided to step away from the captain role this weekend. He remained with the team as the coach and handed over the captain reins to Pasi Virtanen.
It could be expected that this was a tough situation even as coach for Tiilikainen, who must have been experiencing divided loyalties. At this point, Tiilikainen can breathe easy as the Finns secured an insurmountable 3-0 lead after surprisingly winning the doubles point.
The home court advantage certainly played in the favour of the makeshift doubles duo of Henri Kontinen and Jarkko Nieminen. They upset the recent US Open finalists Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski in a tough 76(1) 76(5) 64 win.
“We played well in the two tiebreaks and in the beginning of the third set,” said Jarkko Nieminen, the star of the Finnish team.
“I didn’t lose any of my service games on Friday or Saturday,” said the thrilled 21-year-old Kontinen.
After the Finns secured the win – they only lost one set in three matches – Tiilikainen commented on the big picture for Finland’s Davis Cup: “It’s good that we stayed in Group I and we are ready for bigger steps next year.”
In Bratislava, the Slovak Republic concluded Saturday with a 2-1 edge over the Ukraine, but the highly competitive doubles match could’ve been won by either team. Slovakians Filip Polasek and Igor Zelenay edged past Sergiy Bubka and Sergiy Stakhovsky in a 75 67(3) 62 67(3) 64 thriller.
“We played great, I’m really happy, but also maybe a bit sorry about the tiebreaks, we could have won at least one of them,” said Zelenay who was playing his first Davis Cup match at home. “But on the other hand we made sure that Stachi (Stakhovsky is scheduled to play in three matches) is going to be a bit more fatigued tomorrow.”
With the first two sets split between the two countries, the Ukrainian team had a very special guest arrive during the third set – Sergiy Bubka Sr. Yes, the legendary Olympic pole vault champion and international sports administrator, came to watch his son in action. Bubka Sr. might have been in the so-called enemy’s camp, but that didn’t stop Slovak fans giving Bubka Sr. a resounding welcome in recognition of his importance in international sports.
Unfortunately, Bubka Sr. did not get to see his son in great form as the younger Bubka had his serve broken twice in the Ukrainian’s third-set loss.
The match finally turned for good to the Slovak’s advantage in the third game of the final set. Although the Ukrainian’s saved three break points they couldn’t save a fourth, allowing Slovakia to go up 2-1 with a service break in the fifth set. The Slovak team eventually went ahead 4-1, so weren’t even in trouble when Polasek dropped his serve in the sixth game.
“We are so glad to have won this crucial rubber,” Polasek said following the match. “I think both teams played on a very high level, the match was close and small details made the difference.”
The Ukrainian’s, however, were far from ready to surrender the weekend to the Slovak Republic even if they were 2-1 down heading into Sunday’s final day of play.
“It is a new day tomorrow and we will fight,” said Ukrainian captain Orest Tereshchuk.
In the Asia-Oceania Group I play-off tie, Chinese Taipei went ahead 2-1 courtesy of a go-the-distance 36 64 26 63 86 doubles decision for Lee Hsin-Han and Yi Chu-Huan over Treat Huey and Cecil Mamiit of the Philippines. The match certainly kept fans riveted for 3 hours 52 minutes of action in Cebu, Philippines where they were playing.
This was not the first meeting between these two teams. Lee and Yi also beat Huey and Mamiit 76(1) 64 at the 2010 Asian Games in Guzngzhou, China, last November.
The Taiwanese pairing finally took control of the doubles when they broke Huey’s serve in the 13th game of the fifth set. They went on to serve out the match in the next game.
Chinese Taiwan leads the Philippines 2-1 going into Sunday’s reverse singles matches.
In the Americas zonal tie, Mexico put itself on the scoreboard with the doubles victory by Daniel Garza and Santiago Gonzalez, who defeated Julio Cesar Campozano and Roberto Quiroz 62 67(6) 63 64. The doubles win means the Mexicans have one point to two for the Ecuadorians heading into Sunday’s reverse singles matches.
Garza wasn’t supposed to be on the Mexican team, but was put in as a last minute substitute for Cesar Ramirez.
“The truth is I’m tired from yesterday, but I feel good, today’s match will help me a bit for tomorrow,” said Garza, who is scheduled to play singles on Sunday.
Gonzalez was not surprised with the outcome of the doubles: “I think we started well from the first set, we were more aggressive than them, we pass in the end. I think it was the only point where we were favorites.”
For Finland, the news is already good as they know they will stay in Davis Cup Zone Group I while Poland will drop back to Zone Group II action.
For the other teams in this weekend’s Zone Group I play-offs, Sunday’s play will determine their fate.