Mikhail Kukushkin says his victory over Stanislas Wawrinka was the “biggest of his career”, as he helped Kazakhstan to a 2-0 lead in its Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie against Switzerland. This sensational start means that the central Asian nation needs just one more point to qualify for the World Group for the first time in its history.
Kukushkin was up against Wawrinka, a player who he had lost to convincingly in the first round of the US Open just two weeks ago, while 61 places separated the two in the world rankings. However, from the outset, it was visible this would be a completely different encounter. The first set was a cagey affair, with both players looking comfortable on serve, however in the ninth game, the Swiss earned the first break of the match, which was enough to see him into a one-set-to-love lead.
“When I lost the first set, I thought that this match was going to be same as what happened at the US Open, that I’m going to lose in three sets. But when I play at home in Astana, I can’t just lie down, I have to try my best to win,” said Kukushkin.
The Kazakh, who certainly didn’t play badly in the opener, picked up his game in the second set, and from nowhere he levelled the match at a set all, after taking it 6-1. Kukushkin kept up that momentum going into the third to move to within a set of victory, as his opponent’s play became more and more defensive which allowed his Kazakh rival to play his best tennis.
“He started the second set really well, and was playing very aggressively and was able to break me in the second game. He was hardly making any unforced errors, so it was difficult for me,” said Wawrinka.
Wawrinka fights back
The momentum was all with Kukushkin, who needed just a set to propel his country to a two-love lead, but in keeping with the match, it was the Swiss’s turn to bounce back and give himself a lifeline. The key moment came in a marathon second game, where Wawrinka had numerous break point opportunities, and he was finally able to take advantage at the fifth attempt, as he would level up the encounter, and send the match into a decider.
With both players tiring, it was anyone’s game, but it was Kukushkin who was the stronger of the two. Once again, a break in the second game proved to be the turning point, and roared on by a partisan home crowd, he was able to withstand a late barrage of pressure from his opponent to take an epic five set encounter in three and a half hours.
“I was a little bit nervous coming into the match, but then I began to settle down, and just tried to fight for every ball. I got a little bit of luck as well, and I won,” Kukushkin commented.
Wawrinka said he was hampered by a leg problem, which he was carrying into this Davis Cup encounter, but he refused to blame this injury for his defeat.
“Today was a really tough match. Kukushkin was playing some of the best tennis he’s probably ever played. I had too many ups and downs, and it was difficult for me to stay focused and I certainly didn’t play at one hundred percent today,” said the Swiss.
Golubev gets Kazakhstan on the board
Earlier in the day, Andrey Golubev had got the ball rolling for the home side, with a straight sets victory against Marco Chiudinelli. The world No. 39 put in a fine display and was immaculate on serve throughout, as the Swiss was never really able to put his Kazakh opponent under any pressure in what was a very one-sided encounter.
Within no time at all, Gobulev had raced into a two-sets-to-love lead, and there was to be no way back for his Swiss opponent, as the 23-year-old was able to conjure up a break just when it was needed and seal victory in just a fraction over two hours.
Attention now turns to Saturday’s doubles, where Evgeny Korolev and Yuriy Schukin are due to go up against Michael Lammer and Yves Allegro. The Swiss know they must win if they want to have any chance of going into Sunday’s reverse singles with something to play for, and their No. 1, Wawrinka, is confident his side can do just that.
“It’s not the start we were hoping for as we are 2-0 down. Tomorrow will be a very difficult doubles, but if we can take that doubles, then will have some chance on Sunday,” he explained.