With such a long Davis Cup rivalry, it was fitting that the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Group I tie between Philippines and Japan should open with a record-breaking clash between two players at opposite spectrums of their careers.
In 5 hours 25 minutes, making it Japan’s longest Davis Cup rubber in history, 22-year-old Tatsuma Ito defeated veteran Philippine Cecil Mamiit 64 67(5) 63 67(3) 97 to give the visitors the opening point in Cebu.
Mamiit, at 34 years old and once a Top 75 player back in 1999, put up an incredible fight against his younger opponent, but ran out of steam as Ito battled through hot and humid conditions to save three match points and secure a no doubt emotional win.
The match surpassed Japan’s previous record of 4 hours 27 minutes, set by Go Soeda and Thailand’s Danai Udomchoke back in 2006.
World No. 110 Soeda, stepping up as Japan’s No. 1 in the absence of Kei Nishikori, then made it an easy 2-0 with a 63 63 63 victory over Johnny Arcilla, a last minute replacement for Treat Huey, who injured his left knee in the morning’s practice session at the paradisal Plantation Bay Resort & Spa.
Japan is now on the path to extend its 17-9 record over Philippines but the hosts shouldn’t lose heart just yet. It was only six months ago that the same foursome came from 0-2 down in their Group I second round tie against the higher-ranked Koreans. On Saturday, it will be down to the doubles teamwork of Arcilla and Vicente Anasta to keep that memory alive.
Fans at Shanghai’s Xian Xia Tennis Center were also treated to a gripping first day at the tie between China P.R. and Chinese Taipei, with two five-set wins for China from Mao-Xin Gong and Di Wu. Both players saved match points to prevail on the indoor hard courts and give the hosts a 2-0 lead going into Saturday’s doubles.
China’s current top player Mao-Xin Gong downed Tsung-Hua Yang 57 61 76(5) 46 86 in 4 hours 49 minutes, despite Yang holding an incredible six match points in the final set.
It was the first ever five-set singles win of Gong’s career and also his first win over former ITF Junior World Champion Yang, having fallen to the Taiwanese teenager for the second time three weeks ago at the Caloundra Challenger in Australia.
Nineteen-year-old Di Wu, standing at No. 368 in the rankings, threw down a mind-boggling upset of world No. 42 Yen-Hsun Lu, defeating the talented Taiwanese player from two-sets-to-one down, 64 36 36 75 97 in 4 hours 14 minutes. Lu, best remembered for taking out Andy Roddick in five sets at Wimbledon last year, failed to convert his one match point in the fourth set.
It’s been a disappointing year so far for Lu, who has failed to win a single match on the tour. But the 27 year old will be hoping to get his break on Sunday when he faces fellow team No. 1 Gong, who is playing all three rubbers this weekend and will inevitably be feeling the strain.
Over in Uzbekistan, it was more of a walk in the park for the hosts, who arrived in the north-eastern city of Namangan with a full-strength team.
Farrukh Dustov had a breezy win over Davis Cup debutant Artem Sitak of New Zealand, defeating the visitor 60 63 61 in under an hour and a half. Then Denis Istomin, the world No. 54, handed Uzbekistan the 2-0 lead at the end of day one with a 62 63 63 victory against Jose Statham.
The Kiwi No. 2 came into the tie having won 11 of his last 12 Davis Cup rubbers and was undefeated for the whole of 2010. But he was going to need a real stroke of luck to beat his opponent, a New Haven finalist who had his best season in 2010 and reached a career-high ranking of No. 39.
So with perfect 2-0 leads for Japan, China P.R. and Uzbekistan at the end of day one, Saturday’s doubles matches will be a nerve-wracking affair for all six teams competing in the Asia/Oceania Group I this weekend.