ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: After all the twists and turns and sub-plots to the opening day’s two singles matches, it came as something of a surprise to get a straightforward story in the doubles on day two on the clay court of the National Tennis Centre in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Where there had been little to separate the two teams in the singles, the doubles was much more decisive as Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev and Yuriy Schukin beat Denis Istomin and Farrukh Dustov, of Uzbekistan, in straight sets to give the home team a 2-1 lead in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off.
As is often the way in Davis Cup tennis, the doubles could hold the key to the outcome of this tie and clearly Uzbekistan have it all to do in the reverse singles. While Istomin, as comfortably the highest ranked player in the tie at No. 34, can reasonably be expected to square the tie for them against Mikhail Kukushkin.
It could be asking a lot of Dustov, ranked 308 in the world, to beat Evgeny Korolev or even Golubev, who are both former top 50 players and looking very much like their old selves in this tie.
Dias Doskarayev, the Kazakhstan captain, said the outcome of the doubles would be all about how well Uzbekistan's big-hitters served and how well his own pair returned. In the event, it was a comfortable victory for the servers, except that they turned out to be the Kazaks. Istomin, as Doskarayev pointed, served poorly by his standards in a 76(3) 63 64 defeat.
The one-sided nature of the match may also have had something to do with the fact that Golubev and Schukin have been playing a lot of tennis together recently, certainly a lot more than Istomin and Dustov.
Both pairs were of that opinion, too, afterwards. In their last 12 months the Kazak pair have reached three Challenger finals, all on clay, winning one of them, and that understanding was obvious from early on.
Istomin has played more doubles with foreign partners – including Golubev – than he has with Dustov and they were in trouble as early as the third game in the opening set. Judging by the number of times he had to abort his toss-up – and remember this is an indoor arena – it’s fair to assume that the big Dustov was suffering a bit from nerves. The Kazaks spurned three break points in that game alone.
It wasn’t until the seventh game and their ninth break point that the Kazakstan pair finally achieved a breakthrough. They had been finding space behind Istomin on Dustov’s backhand side with increasing regularity, but when the Uzbeks eventually succumbed, on the ninth break point, it was a netted backhand close to the net from Istomin that did for them.
It must have been galling for the Kazak pair to be immediately broken themselves when the Uzbeks converted their first break point thanks to a couple errors from Golubev. The Russian-born Golubev didn’t make many, though, and he made up for it when he clinched the ensuing tiebreak with a wickedly angled backhand winner at the net.
From then on he and his partner were firmly in control. Istomin was broken in the second game of the second set and the Uzbeks never came close to reducing the deficit. Golubev eventually clinched the set with a running forehand winner that brought the crowd to its feet.
After that there was a power failure for quarter of an hour at the arena. There was nothing much wrong with the power of the home team, though, and once Istomin had been broken in the opening game of the third set Uzbekistan’s lights were as good as out, too.
It was indicative of the lack of understanding between Istomin and Dustov that when the end came it did so to a ball played down the middle which each left to the other. They surely can’t play as poorly in the reverse singles.
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