GEELONG, AUSTRALIA: Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic have fired Australia to a 2-0 lead in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie against China at the Geelong Lawn Tennis Club.
Fresh from their fourth round heroics at the Australian Open, the Aussies were too assured on home turf for China’s grass court novices. Davis Cup warhorse Hewitt, playing in an Aussie record-equalling 32nd tie, defeated Chinese No.1 Zhang Ze 62 61 76(4) to open hostilities, while Aussie No.1 Bernard Tomic overcame Wu Di, who again belied his lowly ranking, 64 76(3) 63.
Grass has all but disappeared as a major tennis surface around the world, apart from during the British summer, of course, but the Aussies are still kings in their grass castles at home. This is Australia’s second straight grass tie at home, following their battle royale with Switzerland in the World Group play-off last September in Sydney.
On the banks of the Barwon River, under cool, leaden skies, the vertiginous temporary stands surrounding the spongy grass court could well have been crenellated battlements to the Chinese team. A sell-out crowd of 3,200 filled the bleachers for Geelong’s first-ever hosting of a Davis Cup tie, at Australia’s oldest provincial tennis club, founded in 1882.
Hewitt versus Zhang, a re-match of the last rubber in Australia’s defeat of China last July in Beijing, was shaping as a colossal mismatch, with the No. 278 ranked Zhang, down 62 3-0. The team trainer tended to his sore left knee, already feeling the greater muscle strain of grass-court play.
But in the third set, the strongly built 21-year-old threw caution to the wind. Powering down his big serve and swinging from the heels, he challenged the 2002 Wimbledon champion, before three errors at 4-4 in the tiebreak gifted Hewitt his 38th Davis Cup singles win. “He came out swinging,” Hewitt noted of the sea-change third set. “He made a lot more first serves, flattens out his shots a lot more. He’s awkward when he’s playing like that.”
Tomic, the youngest Wimbledon quarterfinalist last July since Boris Becker, struggled unevenly against the Chinese No. 2, despite the chasm between their rankings - the Aussie at No. 36 and Wu at No. 502. The compactly built 20-year-old Wu has made a mockery of his ranking in Davis Cup, defeating Aussie debutante Marinko Matosevic last July and No. 42 Yen-Hsun Lu earlier in 2011. Hewitt, who defeated the nimble, smooth-hitting Wu in the Hopman Cup, called him “the best 500 (ranked) player I’ve ever seen.”
In breezy conditions, the creative Tomic made all the play, jerking his opponent around with gliding backhands, teasing drop shots and bullet-like forehands. Still, the Aussie was down 0-3 in the second set, before taking it in a tiebreak and building a comfortable 4-1 lead in the third. “Much tougher than it looked,” said the 19-year-old, whose last match could hardly have been more different: a fourth-round loss to the great Roger Federer at the Australian Open.
“Not pretty, but he found a way to win,” remarked Aussie captain Pat Rafter, crediting his young spearhead for maintaining focus and intensity after his headline-grabbing Melbourne Park run. “With Bernie, it’s hard for him to get up sometimes for matches when [he’s] expected to win.”
Rafter has entrusted Hewitt with three rubbers this weekend, despite his shredded big left toe and looming 31st birthday - an assignment more daunting on any other surface but grass. His day’s work done by 1.15pm, Hewitt had plenty of time to rest up for Saturday’s doubles, where he’ll partner Chris Guccione against Zhang and Li Zhe.
- Follow's Tennis Australia's live scoring from Geelong
The winner in Geelong takes on the winner of the Korea, Rep. v Chinese Taipei clash in wintry Gimcheon, South Korea, where the hosts lead 2-0 after Friday’s opening singles.
Yong-Kyu Lim, ranked No. 288, needed more than four hours to come back from the brink against No. 273 Ti Chen, 57 36 61 75 64, to put Korea in front. Even more stunning, 18-year-old Suk-Yeong Jeong upset Taipei’s No.1, Tsung-Hua Yang, ranked over 600 places higher, 64 46 63 76(5) in a 3 hour 39 minute marathon.
Korea leads Chinese Taipei 2-0 in past Davis Cup clashes, and the hosts’ task in Gimcheon has been made easier with the absence of Taipei’s top player, world No. 62 Yen-Hsun Lu.
At Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, the Kiwis enjoyed no home-court advantage at the spanking new, state-of-the-art TECT Arena for Friday‘s singles. Uzbekistan’s top player Denis Istomin, ranked No. 58, outclassed No. 554 Rubin Statham 61 61 63 in a brisk 1 hour 24 minutes. Kiwi No. 1 Michael Venus thenput up stiffer resistance before falling to Farrukh Dustov 36 61 62 62.
Venus will be back up for the doubles with Daniel King-Turner on Saturday, taking on Istomin and Dustov at 3pm local time. In their fourth Davis Cup meeting since 2000, the Kiwis are yet to beat Uzbekistan. The winner in Tauranga takes on India in April for a berth in the World Group play-offs. The top seed in Asia/Oceania Zone Group I, India have a bye this round.
Captain Patrick Rafter (AUS) - 10/02/2012
Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 10/02/2012
Bernard Tomic (AUS) - 10/02/2012