BORAS, SWEDEN: The damage had already been done. The two dead rubber victories for visitors Russia in Sweden on Sunday were a case of too little too late, and although it gave the overall scoreline of 3-2 in the hosts' favour a little more respectability, Shamil Tarpischev’s men will head back to Moscow with their tails between their legs after the first two days of competition were distinctly one-sided.
For the record, day three saw Dmitry Tursunov score a 75 62 victory over Robin Soderling’s stand-in for the day, doubles specialist Simon Aspelin, before Igor Andreev squeezed past Joachim Johansson 76(8) 64.
The reality is, however, that those successes will be little consolation for a squad that badly missed their two highest ranked singles players, Mikhail Youzhny, who recently announced his retirement from Davis Cup tennis, and the out of form Nikolay Davydenko.
Not that any of that really mattered to Swedish captain Thomas Enqvist, of course. He had arrived in the small southern town of Boras looking for his first World Group victory as captain and played his hand to perfection with a perfectly balanced team that had delivered an unbeatable 3-0 lead by teatime on Saturday.
We were all expecting good things from Swedish No.1 Robin Soderling, arguably the hottest player on tour this year with three trophies already on the shelf since the beginning of January and a win-loss record of 17-1 coming into the tie.
It was Enqvist’s faith in world No.749 Johansson as his No.2 singles player that had raised a few eyebrows and prompted many to ponder just how match tight the former world No.9 would be after playing just three singles contests in the last two seasons.
Enqvist’s faith was repaid in style by "Pim Pim", however, who bullied Russian No.1 Teymuraz Gabashvili into submission on Friday with his monstrous serve and ruthless forehand.
Enqvist can now start planning for a July fixture that will see Sweden take on Serbia on home soil in the quarterfinals after the defending champions sealed victory over India on Sunday. The prospect of world No.3 Novak Djokovic turning up to take on Soderling should whet the appetite of Sweden’s tennis fans.
The question most will be asking, though, is whether this weekend will mark a return to the tour for Johansson.
“I have a plan,” the 6ft 6in 28-year-old promised his fans on Sunday evening. “I’m going to go back home now and discuss what to do with my coaches and take it from there. Magnus Norman has started an academy with Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom in Stockholm and they’re helping me every day. I practice there once a day and do fitness every afternoon. It’s working really good.”
Enqvist, more than anyone, must be hoping Johansson returns to the tour and he seems certain the events of the weekend could be the catalyst to more success. “He’s worked really hard the last three or four months and he’s progressing all the time and this weekend was a very good experience for him against good players,” the captain said.
“It shows he’s on the right path and I think he’s just going to improve as time goes on and with more matches. He’s going to be a strong player for us in the future.”
As for the Russians, they now face a World Group play-off tie in September to defend their place in the competition’s elite 16 nations in 2012. Tursunov, no doubt referring to the absence of Youzhny and Davydenko, urged fans to be realistic.
“We had very good results in the past few years so there’s a certain expectation for us to do well but when you think of it logically, expecting things is one thing but doing things to get the results is something different,” he said. “I think there’s quite a bit of readjusting to do for the team, for everyone really. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay in the World Group.”
Captain Thomas Enqvist (SWE) - 6/3/11
Joachim Johansson (SWE) - 6/3/11
Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) - 6/3/11