ASIA/OCEANIA ZONE GROUP I: Aging Aussie hero Lleyton Hewitt secured a 3-1 win for his country in Beijing, to put Australia into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs in September. Replacing Marinko Matosevic in the first of the reverse singles, 30-year-old Hewitt defeated a gallant Ze Zhang 62 61 46 76(2).
This was the first Davis Cup team to feature the past and future of Australian tennis, in Hewitt and new No. 1 Bernard Tomic. While the 18-year-old Tomic took the passed torch to level the tie at 1-1, the die-hard Hewitt isn’t history just yet. He may be a lowly 173 in the rankings, No.4 in Australia, carrying injuries and scars all over his ravaged body but Hewitt came away with two rubbers and remains the spiritual leader of Australia’s Cup team.
In his 30th Cup campaign, Australia’s most successful player extended his own records for total wins (46) and singles wins (37). His doubles victory with Chris Guccione lifted his doubles mark to 9-3.
The 20-year-old Zhang, ranked 380, had provided some hairy moments for Tomic in a four-set loss on Friday. But staring down a must-win rubber against a titan of the competition, Zhang began nervously, losing his opening serve with two double faults. He didn’t hold serve until his fourth attempt, with Hewitt up 5-1.
The second set was all Hewitt, not allowing his opponent to settle, punishing him in long, clinical rallies like a boxer working over an opponent in the ring. The chanting home crowd tried to lift their man and just when all seemed lost, the first howl of ‘C’mon!’ in the third set came not from Hewitt but Zhang, who broke the Aussie in the first game and saved two breakpoints to serve out the set 64.
Hewitt surged to 4-2 in the fourth but Zheng by now had forgotten he was facing a former world No. 1. When he levelled for 4-4, then survived a match point at 5-6 to force a tiebreak, the crowd erupted. Was this another unwelcome reminder for Hewitt that his battered body just won’t allow him to do what the die-hard competitor in him demands?
The Aussie lifted for the climactic tiebreak, serving two aces and wrong-footing his opponent to reach 5-1, while Zhang served up a disastrous double-fault to go down 6-1 and multiple match points. Hewitt played the hero once more but his relief was obvious as he hugged all on the Aussie bench, starting with new captain Pat Rafter. The fifth rubber, between Tomic and Di Wu, was scrapped. ‘We’re Aussies, we want to start drinking,’ Rafter joked. Or not.
Japan joins Australia in the World Group play-offs, following a 4-1 result over Uzbekistan at home in Kobe. Kei Nishikori came away with a third win for the weekend, topping Denis Istomin 67(5) 75 64 63 in just under three hours. In the final dead rubber, Go Soeda defeated Sarvar Ikramov 75 60.
The 21-year-old Nishikori improves his Davis Cup record to 5-1 and will compete in a World Group play-off for the first time in his fledgling Cup career. Japan has failed three times to break into the World Group since 1998, against Russia, Chile in 2004 and Romania in 2007.
In Hawera, New Zealand romped to a 5-0 win over Philippines and cheekily looked ahead to a possible Group I clash with Australia. A few dominoes are yet to fall there - Australia would need to lose its World Group play-off in September against an opponent yet to be determined, and then draw New Zealand in 2012.
But who can blame the Kiwis for getting excited? This was their first 5-0 result in two years, and it came in a Group I encounter - their last whitewash was over Indonesia in Asia/Oceania Group II.
For today’s reverse singles, the Kiwis sent out the doubles players that secured the tie in straight sets on Saturday. Marcus Daniell won 46 63 63 over 18-year-old Jeson Patrombon, making his Davis Cup debut as a replacement for Ruben Gonzales. A quarterfinalist in the Wimbledon junior singles last month, Patrombon recently acquired his first ATP points on the ITF circuit.
Artem Sitak, Russian-born and a New Zealand resident for two years, replaced Rubin Statham in the final rubber and accounted for Filippino playing captain and former top 100 player Cecil Mamiit 64 75.