TOKYO, JAPAN: Wins by Kei Nishikori and Yuichi Sugita handed Japan to a commanding 2-0 lead over India in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off at Ariake Coliseum on Friday. Japan need just one more victory to earn a spot in the World Group for the first time since 1985.
Japanese No. 1 Nishikori, ranked 55th in the world, posted a clinical 63 62 62 victory over Rohan Bopanna in the second singles match, overwhelming his much lower-ranked challenger. Sugita staked the hosts to a 1-0 lead in the opener with a decisive 63 64 75 win over Somdev Devvarman.
Nishikori and Go Soeda are scheduled to face Mahesh Bhupathi and Vishnu Vardhan in the doubles on Saturday afternoon, although Indian captain Shiv-Prakash Misra has already indicated that Bopanna is likely to replace Vardhan.
"As I expected, my players played very well," said Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi. "Nishikori was particulary outstanding. He is a very tactical player and performed well.
"Sugita's mission was to go out and push Devvarman to at least five sets," Takeuchi added. "He did better. He won. Who thought he would beat Devvarman in three sets?"
Sugita hands hosts early advantage
Sugita, ranked 174th in singles, displayed a strong all-around game and prevailed in a baseline battle. The Sendai native started the match by taking the opening game on serve with a powerful ace and then broke Devvarman in the fourth game.
Devvarman and India captain Shiv-Prakash Misra vociferously protested a line call after that game with chair umpire Roger Pennington, but to no avail. Sugita closed out the set in 35 minutes with a pair of aces.
In the second set, Sugita broke Devvarman in the third game then rebuffed the Indian's lone break point of the match in the next game. Sugita then tore off three straight points to take the game and rolled to take the set 64 with a love game.
Devvarman put up more resistance in the third set, despite having to take a medical timeout after taking a 2-1 lead. He was suffering from pain behind the right shoulder and was worked on by both the official trainer and team staff.
The final set stayed on serve until the 11th game, when Devvarman was broken by Sugita after hitting a forehand long. Sugita then quickly finished the contest by taking the set 75 with a forehand winner. The victory was especially poignant for Sugita, who hails from the area closest to the epicenter of the March 11 disaster in Japan.
"I saw people from Sendai cheering for me in the crowd today and felt very emotional," Sugita stated. "I didn't play any differently today than normal. I did prepare for this match for one month and tried to envision my opponent."
Nishikori confirms Japan dominance
The 21-year-old Nishikori broke Bopanna in the fourth game of the first set and never looked back, spraying the court with winners. The Shimane native, who did not even allow a break point to Bopanna, admitted that Sugita's surprise triumph made his task much easier.
"Sugita's victory took a lot of pressure off me," Nishikori said. "I returned well today, especially on his second serve. I knew I coculd beat him if I played my game."
Nishikori's win put his nation on the precipice of a return to the World Group after 26 years away and the star acknowledged its significance. "My win makes it 2-0 and puts us very close to what we are striving for," he commented.
Bopanna had nothing but praise for Nishikori after the loss. "He is playing at a high level," said the Indan player. "He is really quick. I think he is playing like a top 30 player. He was fantastic."
India captain Shiv-Prakash Misra acknowledged that the day didn't go well for his team but isn't ready to concede anything just yet.
"We had a tough day today," Misra said. "The Japanese boys played very well and deserved to win. We didn't foresee being down 2-0. (Somdev) Devvarman's injury was clearly bothering him. He just could not hit the ball well.
"Being down 2-0 is a tough position for us," Misra added. "We will have to take it one match at a time from now starting with the doubles."
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Captain Shiv Prakash Misra (IND) - 16/09/11
Captain Eiji Takeuchi (JPN) - 16/09/11
Kei Nishikori (JPN) - 16/09/11