ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: They may not have a player ranked inside the world’s Top 150, but Kazakhstan continue to send shockwaves around the tennis world.
Austria, who arrived in Astana for their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round World Group match-up were the latest casualty, but they can have no complaints as they were out played over the course of the tie.
All parties were adamant that Evgeny Korolev’s unexpected victory against Jurgen Melzer in the second rubber was the turning point in the tie. A 181 ranking difference between the two counted for little as the Moscow-born Kazakh produced an excellent display of attacking tennis to give the host nation an unexpected 2-0 lead after the opening singles.
“Every point that you can make or can’t make is key to the overall success of the team, but obviously we expected Jurgen to win his opening match. He is a big player for us, but overall I just have to admit that the Kazakhstan team played better than we did," said Clemens Trimmel, the Austrian Davis Cup captain.
What makes Kazakhstan’s victory even more impressive is that they managed it without their top ranked player, Mikhail Kukushkin, who was still feeling the effects of a double hip operation conducted at the end of 2012.
Aside from Korolev’s heroic’s, not for the first time, the home side were indebted to a superb performance by Andrey Golubev. The Kazakh No. 2 played all three days, and although he saw his overall unbeaten Davis Cup record at home ended after a doubles defeat, he won both singles matches against Andreas Haider-Maurer and Melzer, for the loss of just one set.
Golubev's ranking has fallen to No. 187 in the world, though he has been as high as 33 just over two years ago, and it seems playing in men’s tennis’ biggest team competition brings out the best in the 25 year-old.
“Davis Cup is not about the rankings, it’s just about playing for your country," he said. "In Astana I had never lost singles, well I lost the doubles on Saturday, but I like to play here. It’s a good atmosphere and a good crowd and we are supported so well.”
The Czech Republic will be next for the Kazakhs in Astana and this is a team that Kazakh captain Dias Doskarayev knows only too well as the central Asian nation pulled off a 3-2 upset in Ostrava at this stage of the competition two years ago.
Doskarayev was not the captain on that occasion, but he will take enormous confidence from the way that his country managed to beat last year’s Davis Cup champions, with Golubev winning both of his singles matches. Doskarayev was quick to hail the impact Golubev has had on the team, and he knows he will be crucial to his team’s future chances.
“I believed in Andrey because he was an ex-Top 40 player. He is a great player and he is one of those players who can capture the momentum and if he can believe in himself he can beat anyone,” he said.
These are exciting times to be a Kazakh tennis fan and the team is continuing to grow in confidence and belief. Kazakhstan have not lost a home Davis Cup tie since April 2008, and they will be looking to extend that record to five years when they play the Czech Republic in April.