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11 February 2012

Croatia earn crucial doubles victory



  • Fred Varcoe

Photo: Takeo TanumaIvan Dodig and Ivo Karlovic (CRO)

HYOGO, JAPAN: Croatia earned a crucial doubles victory over Japan on Saturday on the second day of their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Hyogo.

Ivan Dodig and Ivo Karlovic overcame Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita 64 64 36 63 in a tense three-hour match. Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan drafted in Dodig to replace Lovro Zovko after checking his No. 1 player’s condition following his five-set loss to Go Soeda on Friday.

“He was in good shape so I decided to make the switch,” Krajan explained. On Sunday, Dodig will face Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori, while Karlovic will meet Go Soeda. In Friday’s singles, Soeda beat Dodig and Karlovic beat Nishikori.

“Today, Ivo and Ivan played a great match,” Krajan said. “The way they serve, it’s very tough to break them, and Sugita and Ito were under pressure all the time on their serve so maybe it was just a matter of time that they were going to collapse under this pressure.

"Japan played well but with the way our guys served, it’s very tough. You have to play perfect games all the time on your serve and make no mistakes. They played decent and started very good but I think they were under too much pressure all the time to relax.”

Krajan realises the tie is not over yet.

“It’s a big difference being 2-1 up than 2-1 down. It doesn’t mean the tie is over, but it’s a huge lead being up and tomorrow having to win one out of two matches and not two out of two matches. But the tie is still far from being finished.”

The two teams played even tennis early on with the Japanese pair holding their own against the big-serving Croatians. Their only slip-up came in the ninth game when two poor volleys at the net by Sugita handed Croatia two breakpoints.

Sugita redeemed himself on the first with a nice volleyed backhand at the net, but on the next point Dodig sent a backhand zinger down the line and that meant Japan had to break Karlovic to stay in the set. But the big Croat easily held and put his team up 1-0 with his fourth ace of the set.

“Today, on the important points, I played really well,” Karlovic said. “When I was 0-40 down, I came up with three big serves.”

Japan got off to a bad start in the second set when Sugita lost his serve. Karlovic delivered a great service return to kick things off and Sugita didn’t help his cause with his first double-fault of the match. Japan saved two breakpoints, but at deuce, two more wayward shots by Sugita put Croatia 1-0 up in the set.

But that did not deter Japan. In fact, they got stronger as the set wore on and earned their first breakpoints in the 10th game of the set as they attacked Dodig’s serve. But after saving three breakpoints, Dodig came up with a three good serves to win the game and put the Croatians 2-0 up.

After Ito and Karlovic won their service games to love at the start of the third set, Sugita had to endure a marathon 10 deuces before a Dodig backhand put Japan 2-1 up. But Japan were clearly getting closer. They had a breakpoint on Dodig’s next service game and three against Karlovic when they went 40-0 up before the Croatian responded with three huge aces.

The break came on Dodig’s next service game, with Ito playing three stunning shots to put Japan in the driving seat. Dodig managed to bring the score to deuce, but then double-faulted. Sugita hit a rocket return off a Dodig second serve to give Japan the advantage in the set. Ito cranked out some big serves – one clocked at 207 kph – and Japan pulled back to 1-2 in the match.

But they couldn’t sustain their form. After going up 30-0 in Ito’s first service game of the fourth set, Japan dropped four straight points after a double-fault and two straight errors by Sugita. Dodig served to put Croatia 3-0 up and from that point on, Japan were playing catch-up.

They fought bravely, but could not break the Croats again. The Croatian pair only dropped one point on their serve in the fourth set, a double-fault by Dodig. Karlovic served out to love in the ninth game of the fourth set and his 12th ace of the match finished the Japanese pair off and gave Croatia a 2-1 lead over Japan in the tie.

“I had the choice to put Nishikori in the doubles, but Yuichi and Tatsuma have had more practice time and playing them means Go and Kei will be fresh for tomorrow,” Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi said. “Kei must win tomorrow.”

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Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita (JPN) - 11/02/12

Ivan Dodig and Ivo Karlovic (CRO) - 11/02/12

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    Bourbon Beans Dome, Hyogo, Japan

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    Fred Varcoe

    Fred Varcoe has been writing about sports in Japan for 25 years. He is former sports editor of The Japan Times, where he worked for 15 years, and is now sports editor of Tokyo magazine Metropolis. He has covered sports for UPI and Reuters and also works as an editor/writer for the Japan Football Association and the International Volleyball Federation.



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