As many predicted Germany end day one of its Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play-off tie against South Africa with a 2-0 lead and one tennis shoe firmly planted in next year’s World Group.
Philipp Kohlschreiber put his pre-match nerves to one side and gave hosts Germany the perfect start, doing just enough in the three sets required to out-wit Davis Cup veteran Rik de Voest 64 64 64.
Kohlschreiber later said: “Being Davis Cup, I was bit more nervous than other days, but after a few games the tension was gone. And because I got good starts in all three sets, that gave me the confidence to close each set 64.”
Kohlschreiber takes early lead
Early breaks in each of the three sets proved the difference between two players separated by 174 places in the world rankings.
For 30-year-old de Voest, it was difficult to put his finger on why he found it tough going early on, but admitted it may have been a combination of things.
He said: “It could have been coincidence, concentration, or pressure from Kohlschreiber.
“He didn’t go for as many shots and just waited for me to miss or give him a short opportunity. Unfortunately, I gave him those in the beginning of each set, and then found myself playing catch-up tennis.”
The pair had never previously met in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. They had also never faced each other on the ATP World Tour, nor at a Grand Slam, but de Voest’s memory failed him when asked if they had ever met across the net – though it was in the dim and distant past. Records show that they did once meet in a Challenger event in India in 2003. Kohlschreiber defeated de Voest in straight sets in the second round of the Tumkur Open, on the way to his first title as a professional.
“I didn’t recall that meeting, either,” admitted Kohlschreiber. “Our careers split a little after that win in India. He played more on the Challenger Tour, which is why for a long time I didn’t see him.
“It was only when they announced his name before our match that I remembered.”
And Kohlschreiber – the world No. 31 – feels there’s more to come from him over the weekend: “I think it’s great that I won through in straight sets because I didn’t play my best tennis.
“It’s always good to have areas to improve, which I hope to do for my next match.”
Van der Merwe up next for Germany's No. 1
That next match, in the reverse singles on Sunday, will be against South Africa’s leading player, Izak van der Merwe. He was involved in four-set marathon with Florian Mayer, which eventually went the way of the home player after two hours 40 minutes 63 36 61 76.
Van der Merwe commented: “I felt I had a little bit of a lapse in the third set but came back well in the fourth, and played some really good tennis to take it to a tiebreak, saving a few match points.
“I would have loved to have taken it to a fifth set, and then anything could have happened.”
Mayer got two late breaks to capture the first set 63, only for van der Merwe to win five games in a row in the second set to win that one 63 and level the rubber.
The German, ranked No. 45 in the world rankings, broke van der Merwe three times in the third set, which he won 61, before edging the fourth set in a topsy-turvy tiebreak to seal a second point for the European nation.
The two team captains now look to the potentially telling third rubber on Saturday.
Germany’s Patrik Kuhnen said: “We’re where we want to be, two-love in the tie, and we are eager to get to three points as soon as possible.”
His opposite number, John-Laffnie de Jager, commented: “Our doubles boys are under even more pressure now. They lose, and the tie is over. But they’ve beaten the Bryan brothers before, and so know what it takes to win the big matches.”
Saturday’s doubles rubber sees Andreas Beck team up with Christopher Kas, to tackle the little and large pairing of Wesley Moodie (6’5”) and Jeff Coetzee (5’8”), though don’t discount Kuhnen bringing his big-gun Kohlschreiber as the home team try to avoid a nervy Sunday in Stuttgart.