AUSTRALIA have secured a berth in the World Group play-offs after taking an unassailable 3-0 lead over South Korea in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Group I semifinal in Brisbane.
First-time pairing Chris Guccione and Marinko Matosevic overcame a sputtering start to power home 46 61 64 62 over Suk-Young Jeong and Jae-Min Seol in Pat Rafter Arena.
Pat Rafter the captain had plenty of animated advice for his charges after they dropped the only set of the tie so far. Both Matosevic and Guccione surrendered their serves, in the third and fifth games respectively, and the young Koreans were giving the strapping Aussies a lesson in doubles 101: nifty touch at the net, landing most first serves and returns and shunning the ‘too cute’ options.
For all their booming firepower, the Aussies were not pressuring their nimble opponents. Matosevic, playing his first Cup rubber since a nightmarish debut in China last July, was especially tight. But once the Aussies secured a break of Seol’s serve to go 3-1 in the second, the momentum shifted and stayed with the green-and-gold. Matosevic ripped a few backhand winners that lifted his whole game.
The Aussies streaked to 4-1 leads in each of the remaining sets; in the heart of the fourth, the Koreans went three games without taking a point.
‘I wanna thank Gooch for carrying me on his big shoulders today,’ said the relieved Matosevic after securing his first win in Davis Cup.
‘I didn’t really want to come back and play a live singles match tomorrow,’ admitted Rafter after winning his third of four ties as captain. Since blanking China in the first round, Rafter has talked up his team as one of the best - not in zonal competition but up there with the Spains and Serbias.
‘We get to have another crack at getting into the World Group. I think we’ve got the team,’ he reiterated. ‘We’ll get Lleyton back up and running and we’ll have a very, very good team.’
For the Aussies, not having their Cup talisman on court proved a positive. Four blokes won the three rubbers and none of them was named Lleyton Hewitt. ‘We’ve got some options,’ observed Todd Woodbridge, head of men’s tennis and former teammate of Hewitt. ‘Slowly, we’re building to a very good team again.’
Since falling from the World Group in 2007, Australia has lost all four of its playoffs: to Serbia, Chile, Belgium and Switzerland, the latter two at home. Australia’s opponent in the 2012 playoffs in September will be determined at the draw on Tuesday. Woodbridge puts the chances of an away tie at 75 percent.
Of the eight possible opponents, first-round losers in the World Group in February, only Canada and Italy would guarantee a home match for the Aussies. The choice of ground in a tie with Kazakhstan would be decided by lot, since the two countries have never met. The most tantalising prospect? A rematch with Switzerland, on their turf.
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Chinese takeaway doubles
In the Asia/Oceania Group I play-off tie between Chinese Taipei and China PR, the visitors have wrested back the momentum, winning the doubles to take a valuable 2-1 lead into the reverse singles at the Kaohsiung Yangming Tennis Courts.
China’s No.1 singles player, Ze Zhang, teamed with Zhe Li to account for Hsin-Han Lee and Cheng-Peng Hsieh 76(4) 76(4) 63 in just over two-and-a-half hours.
For Zhang, a four-set loser to Jimmy Wang on Friday, the win was a welcome reversal of his underwhelming Davis Cup record. He’s now 3-2 in doubles and though a bleak 2-10 in singles, has a chance to redeem himself by clinching victory for China in the first of the reverse singles, against No.178 Tsung-Hua Yang.
The 21-year-old Yang will have fresher legs. Not selected for doubles, he had a chance to rest up following his cramp-stricken, 8-6-in-the-fifth loss to Di Wu in the opening rubber.
While a physical cloud may hover over Yang, with Zheng the question is more mental: can he carry the load and expectation of winning two of his three rubbers? A live fifth rubber would see China’s diminutive giant killer Di Wu, who thrives on Cup pressure, take on Jimmy Wang, Chinese Taipei’s most successful Davis Cupper and a veteran of 27 who believes he’s still improving as a competitor.
‘I am quite relaxed and luckily keep (winning) key points,’ he said after levelling the tie at 1-1 on Friday. Wang cites his less ‘wild’ demeanour as a reason for his strong record in the competition.
The winner stays in Asia/Oceania Group I, while the loser hosts either India or New Zealand in a relegation tie in October.
Nightmare in Namangan for Indian ‘dream team’
In Namangan, Uzbekistan sprang a surprise in the doubles to clinch its Asia/Oceania Group I semifinal against India 3-0 and advance to the World Group play-offs.
The makeshift doubles team of Denis Istomin and Murad Inoyatov stunned the Indian ‘dream team’ of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna 76(4) 64 36 63 in just over two-and-a-half hours, on the indoor clay of the Sport Complex Pahlavon. Inoyatov was a late replacement for No. 2 singles player Farrukh Dustov.
Despite their Top 10 doubles rankings, the Indians never really got going. Once the Uzbeks iced the first set, they had all the momentum, and broke Paes in the critical ninth game of the second set.
Paes and Bopanna fought on to take the third but against the run of play, and the home team quickly charged to a 4-1 lead in the fourth. For all their doubles success on tour with other partners (Paes is the reigning Australian Open doubles champ), the Indians’ lack of matches together told.
Namangan continues to be a house of pain for visiting teams. The Uzbeks are now 5-0 in Davis Cup ties at the basketball stadium, while the Indians suffered their second loss there.
An unhappy footnote for India: Sanam Singh, who made his Cup debut in the first rubber, not only lost heavily to Istomin but was diagnosed with chicken pox and spent Friday night in hospital. He left for India on Saturday, via Tashkent, the capital.
The dead rubbers will therefore see one of the doubles specialists, Paes or Bopanna, drafted for singles duty.
Uzbekistan will take part in its sixth World Group play-off in September. The former Soviet Republic has never advanced to the 16-nation World Group. A home fixture in Namangan could well change that.
Meanwhile India will face New Zealand in September, the loser of that tie will then have to play the loser of Chinese Taipei and China, P.R in a relegation tie in October.