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10 February 2012

Game of two halves in Japan


MATCH REPORT

By 

  • Fred Varcoe

Photo: Takeo TanumaIvo Karlovic (CRO)

HYOGO, JAPAN: Japan’s Go Soeda overcame Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 67(3) 36 64 63 75 in the first match of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie between Japan and Croatia at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Hyogo on Friday, but Croatia hit back in the second match when Ivo Karlovic swept Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori 64 64 63.

Soeda’s victory was Japan’s first ever win in a World Group match. In their previous two World Group matches, Japan lost 5-0.

“I think it was my best win ever,” an elated Soeda said afterward. It was perhaps less of a surprise as the world No. 90 also defeated the 55th-ranked Croatian last month at the Chennai Open in China. Asked if he was hoping to avoid Soeda for the rest of the year, Dodig replied tersely, “No comment.”

Early on in their four-hour, five-minute match, the Croatian used his powerful serve to wear down his Japanese opponent. But Soeda just kept pounding out solid groundstrokes to stay in contention.

“We both played very good tennis, but he really started to play very, very good in the third set and in the fourth and fifth set he was playing unbelievable,” Dodig said. “I’m disappointed, but it was a very good match.”

Dodig broke Soeda in the first game of the match after two errors by the Japanese. From there, there was little to separate the two players. Soeda, who reached his highest-ever ranking of 88 in January, went on the offensive at 2-4, winning back-to-back games to love and evening the score at 4-4. But in the tiebreak, Dodig streaked out to a 4-0 lead, threw in a couple of aces and went one set up.

In the second set, Soeda held on to 3-4 but then made a couple of errors on his serve that Dodig capitalised on with two slick backhands, giving him the break he needed to go 2-0 up.

Dodig – who served 23 aces – started to crank up the power serves in the third set, delivering three in his third service game, but tenth game but couldn’t hold off Soeda, who pulled a set back after a neat volley at the net.

Soeda kept the pressure up in the fourth set, holding the first game after being a breakpoint down and then breaking Dodig in the next game. The Croatian broke back in the fifth but Soeda was starting to find his shots and broke Dodig again in the sixth game. The Japanese then earned set point with a lovely backhand drop volley and when Dodig sent a forehand wide, it was all square at 2-2.

The players held serve to 5-5 in the final set when Soeda stepped up the pressure and earned breakpoint with a terrific backhand return. After a long rally, Dodig sent a forehand long and all the Japanese had to do was hold his serve. He did that to love and the crowd erupted when Dodig sent a forehand wide to end the match.

Karlovic – the tallest and hardest-serving player in the game – did exactly what he had promised to do against Nishikori: blitz him with serves and end the points quickly. The Croatian gave up just three points on his serve in the first set. And it didn’t really get any better in the second. Slowly, the Japanese star got closer to the big Croatian’s massive serves, but he couldn’t overcome them. When the two players rallied, it was more even, but Karlovic didn’t come to rally.

“I tried to mix a lot and not rally a lot with him,” the world No. 47 commented. “I try to win as quickly as I can on every point and I was trying to be as aggressive as I could.”

Nishikori may have taken inspiration from Soeda, but there was still little he could do in the third set. In the seventh game, he blew his last chance. He had four chances to clinch the game on his own service, but Karlovic was very persistent and played some classy shots to stay in the game, securing the break with a neat backhand volley at the net.

Two errors by Nishikori in the ninth game sealed the win for Croatia and left the tie wide open going into the doubles. Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan was not unhappy with his team’s display.

“In the end today, it’s 1-1 and I’m satisfied with 1-1,” he said. “I think we saw two very good matches. Ivan played two good sets and then had a chance in the third set being a break up, but after he was broken in the third set I think Soeda started to play a perfect match and he used every chance that he had. Both guys deserved to win.

“As for the second match, it was a perfect match. As Ivo said his game plan went his way and he didn’t give enough time for Kei to go around his forehand and take the points on his forehand. He held his serve easily and I think he was just too dominant.”

Nishikori admitted he couldn’t get into the match against Karlovic.

“I’m not used to playing that kind of player, so it wasn’t easy for me,” the Japanese player admitted. “My main weapon is groundstrokes but Ivo’s serve put me under pressure and I wasn’t able to take points off him.”

Japan captain said Saturday’s doubles match between Tatsuma Ito/Yuichi Sugita and Karlovic/Lovro Zovko would be crucial: “The key now is tomorrow’s doubles match. We’re sticking with Ito and Sugita as we want to separate the doubles and singles. If we put Nishikori into the doubles, it would give him too much pressure. Tomorrow’s a big day. ”Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi..."

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Ivo Karlovic (CRO) - 10/02/2012

Kei Nishikori (JPN) - 10/02/2012

Go Soeda (JPN) - 10/02/2012

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