ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: There are not too many who would have given Kazakhstan a chance when they were pitted against defending champions Czech Republic in this weekend’s 2013 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinals.
But, then again, who would have thought they could go to Ostrava two years ago and beat a Czech side including Tomas Berdych?
And with Berdych missing this weekend due to a shoulder injury and Radek Stepanek, who clinched the vital deciding point which claimed last year’s Davis Cup title, only just making his return following neck surgery, the hosts will fancy their chances of making it through to the semifinals for the first time.
Stepanek, who has not played since the Australian Open, will not appear on the opening day but is expected to play the doubles and perhaps be fielded on the last day if the tie is still live. Instead, Jan Hajek will kick off the tie against Mikhail Kukushkin, followed by Lukas Rosol against Andrey Golubev.
Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev said: “Obviously with Berdych on the team, they are the favourites on paper. But even without Berdych, they have three players in the top 100 and it is going to be very difficult for us.
“But we have prepared well and I have belief in our guys. Hopefully we can have a good start and take a good lead.”
Kazakhstan may not have any players ranked within the top 150 but both matches on the opening day on the clay at the National Tennis Centre in Astana will be intriguing encounters, as both Kukushkin and Golubev have never lost a Davis Cup singles match at home.
World No. 156 Kukushkin should find it tough, though, against Hajek who is ranked 62 places higher. Kukushkin may have beaten Hajek in four sets when the two teams last met, but the 29-year-old Czech has won all of his 18 Challenger and Futures titles on clay.
Golubev may not have won a main draw match on the ATP Tour since the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March 2012 and is now ranked No. 205, but he showed that form and ranking can go out the window in Davis Cup when he beat world No. 37 Jurgen Melzer in February to clinch a 3-1 victory against Austria in the first round.
The 25-year-old can also play well on clay, with his only ATP singles title being won on the clay courts of Hamburg in July 2010.
Lukas Rosol hasn't quite had the boost in results that he was hoping for after he beat Rafael Nadal in the second round at last year’s Wimbledon Championships but the world No. 63 is still the strong favourite against Golubev, with the Czech winning their only career meeting at a clay-court Challenger in Napoli in 2008.
Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil said: “We are coming to Kazakhstan without our first player but Radek is back in the team and I hope we have enough of a strong team to beat Kazakhstan. I’ll be happy with 1-1 after tomorrow’s matches.”
Stepanek and Ivo Minar are due to play Evgeny Korolev and Yuriy Schukin in Saturday’s doubles.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) v Jan Hajek (CZE)
R2: Andrey Golubev (KAZ) v Lukas Rosol (CZE)
R3: Evgeny Korolev/Yuriy Schukin (KAZ) v Ivo Minar/Radek Stepanek (CZE)
R4: Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) v Lukas Rosol (CZE)
R5: Andrey Golubev (KAZ) v Jan Hajek (CZE)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 04/04/2013
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) - 04/04/2013
Jan Hajek (CZE) - 04/04/2013
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 04/04/2013
Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) - 04/04/2013
Lukas Rosol (CZE) - 04/04/2013