ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Defending champions Czech Republic are in pole position to progress to the last four after taking a commanding 2-0 lead over Kazakshtan on the opening day of the Davis Cup BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie.
Jan Hajek comfortably got the visitors on the board at the National Tennis Centre in Astana with a 63 62 64 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin, which was followed by a 46 64 62 76(6) win for Lukas Rosol against Andrey Golubev.
On his return following neck surgery after the Australian Open, Radek Stepanek now has the chance to clinch victory for the Czechs in Saturday’s doubles when he teams up with Hajek against Evgeny Korolev and Yuriy Schukin.
Czech Republic captain Jaroslav Navratil said: “I am very happy because 2-0 after the first day for a captain is very important. Radek wants to play tomorrow to finish our tie so I hope that they can finish it.”
Kukushkin had played a massive part in Kazakhstan’s upset over the Czech Republic in Ostrava in 2011 by beating Hajek in four sets in the tie decider, but there was to be no repeat this time as the Czech proved too solid on the clay in the opening rubber.
Despite being the better player throughout, it was actually Hajek who faced a break point early in the match. The world No. 94 hit a forehand long to give Kukushkin an opportunity for a 2-1 lead in the first set but the Kazakh hit a backhand return wide and Hajek managed to hold.
As the first set progressed, Kukushkin, ranked No. 156, struggled off both wings and a double fault on break point down at 3-4 gave Hajek the chance to serve out the set which he duly took.
Hajek took the early break in the second set as Kukushkin netted a backhand when facing a second break point at 1-1. Another error off the ground from Kukushkin handed the double break to Hajek for 4-1, with the Czech going on clinch the set in 30 minutes with an ace.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed when Kukushkin was lobbed to go a break down in the first game of the third set. Twenty-nine-year-old Hajek, who has won all of his 18 Challenger and Futures titles on clay, then showed all his experience in closing out the match, hitting a backhand winner down the line on his first match point to claim victory in one hour 48 minutes.
Hajek said: “I am so happy that I am back in the team. It was not easy to play the first match because it was very important but I think I did a good job and I felt very good on the court.”
Rosol, the man who famously beat Rafael Nadal in the second round at last year’s Wimbledon Championships, was the strong favourite for his match, with the Czech ranked No. 63 compared to Golubev at No. 205, but he was made to work hard for his four-set victory.
Golubev, who has struggled to find his form on the tour in the past 12 months, showed just why he was once ranked as high as No. 33 when he came out firing in the first set. The 25-year-old got the early break for 3-2 and clinched the set when Rosol put a backhand return wide.
Rosol began to find his range and power in the second set which was evenly matched throughout, until Golubev had a blip when serving to stay in the set at 45 and netted a forehand when facing a second set point.
With the momentum on Rosol’s side at this point, the 27-year-old broke for 2-0 in the third set with a forehand driving volley and continued to dominate, taking the set when Golubev, who had let his head go down, quickly went 0-40 down at 2-5 and tamely hit a backhand into the net.
Golubev made a good effort to raise his game again in the fourth set as he earned the early break but faltered when attempting to serve the set out to level the match. The Kazakh hit a forehand wide on set point and Rosol pulled it back to 5-5 when Golubev netted once more.
Mini breaks were exchanged early in the tiebreak before Golubev once again found himself with an opportunity to level the match when he went 5-4 up with two serves to come. However, more errors off the ground gifted Rosol a first match point at 6-5 but he hit a backhand into the net after a tense rally.
Rosol made no mistake on his second match point at 7-6, though, as he moved in towards the net after another long rally to close it out with a well-placed volley.
Rosol said: “He started very good but I knew if he was going to play like that, he would be ranked better than he is so I knew that my time was coming in the match. He gave me a chance in the last game of the second set and I took it and then started to play better and believe in my game again.”
Both Kukushkin and Golubev had not lost a Davis Cup singles match in Kazakhstan prior to this tie but their first defeats on home soil mean that the hosts will have to stage a remarkable comeback if they are to earn a place in the semifinals for the first time.
Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev said: “It will be a tough one because they have got Stepanek who is a world class player in singles and doubles. It will be a tough day for us but there is nothing to lose. All I can wish is for our guys to play their best and see what happens.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 05/04/13
Lukas Rosol (CZE) - 05/04/2013
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 05/04/2013
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) - 05/04/2013
Jan Hajek (CZE) - 05/04/13
Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) - 05/04/13