ASIA/OCEANIA ZONE GROUP I: China and Australia are locked at 1-1 in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Zone Group I clash after a dramatic first day’s play at the Beijing International Tennis Centre.
With the shock of Lleyton Hewitt’s omission from the singles still reverberating, China’s 19-year-old Di Wu, ranked No. 409 and the hero of his country’s first round win over Chinese Taipei, again soared above his ranking to defeat Aussie debutant Marinko Matosevic 46 63 36 64 64.
Wu wasn’t alone in expressing surprise at Hewitt’s non-selection for singles. New Aussie captain Pat Rafter elected to save his wounded warrior for the doubles, though his hand was forced by Hewitt’s injured foot.
Wu had lost to the burly Matosevic early in 2011 at a Challenger in Australia. But before a home crowd of 1,500 that grew more vocal as the match progressed, the steely Chinese player reeled in the No. 141-ranked Aussie, withstanding a fourth-set fightback to serve it out from 15-40.
Wu continued the momentum into the fifth set by breaking in the first game. The teenager then lost his own serve, but broke again at the next opportunity and held firm for another impressive Davis Cup win.
Bosnian-born Matosevic is the 101st player in Australia’s proud Davis Cup history. Like many debutants before him, Marinko felt the pressure ratchet up as the match went on. “I was just very nervous out there and made too many unforced errors,” he admitted. “I just have to learn to cope with the moment better in a high intensity environment like Davis Cup.”
New Aussie spearhead Bernard Tomic, fresh from his qualifier-to-quarterfinalist exploits at Wimbledon, came through with a 63 57 64 64 win over Ze Zhang. Though ranked over 300 places above his Chinese opponent, this encounter wasn’t without its unnerving moments for the 18-year-old Tomic, who lost four straight games and the second set after serving for it at 5-3.
More than ever, the doubles rubber looms as the swing match of this tie, and the decision to keep Hewitt for the doubles freighted with even more significance. The winner in Beijing progresses to the World Group play-offs in September. China last made the play-offs in 1990, while Australia fell from the World Group in 2007 and has lost in the play-offs each year since.
In Kobe, Japan and Uzbekistan are also tied at 1-1 following victories to both No. 1s. Denis Istomin powered to a 64 64 64 win over Tatsuma Ito, while Kei Nishikori leveled the series after Farrukh Dustov was forced to retire with Nishikori leading 67(2) 63 61.
Nishikori, the top-ranked player in the tie at No.50, returns for the doubles with Go Soeda, while Istomin will pair with Murad Inoyatov. The Uzbeks lead Japan 2-1 in Davis Cup clashes, though the Land of the Rising Sun has a team on the rise, with the smooth-stroking 21-year-old Nishikori heading a group of four Japanese in the top 200.
The winner in Kobe also advances to September’s World Group play-offs, a hurdle Uzbekistan haven’t cleared in five attempts since 1998. Japan last competed in the World Group in 1985.
In Hawera, on New Zealand’s North Island, the Kiwis are 2-0 up in their relegation bout with Philippines. The Rumble of the Rubens went the way of the local, with Jose (Rubin) Statham defeating Ruben Gonzales 64 64 64.
Statham secured early breaks in each set and was never headed by the 830-ranked Gonzales. At 24 the veteran of the New Zealand team, Statham improves his Davis Cup record to 18-4.
The Kiwi No. 1, Michael Venus, subdued playing captain Cecil Mamiit 67(6) 76(4) 63 46 63 with strong serving and a willingness to go for broke on serve-volley points. The 23-year-old, ranked No. 305, made the crucial break in the seventh game of the decider, and broke again for the match.
New Zealand haven’t beaten Philippines in Davis Cup since 1989, but couldn’t be in a better position to end that streak and stay in Group I of the Asia/Oceania Zone. Play continues in all three ties on Saturday with the doubles, before the reverse singles rubbers on Sunday.