ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan kept alive its hopes of a place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semifinals for the first time as Andrey Golubev and Yuriy Schukin beat Czech Republic’s Jan Hajek and Radek Stepanek to reduce the deficit to 2-1.
After winning both rubbers on the opening day, the defending champions were looking good as they went up an early break and served for the first set. But the Kazakhs hit back and prevailed 76(2) 64 63 in two hours and 21 minutes.
The hosts will now hope they can win both singles rubbers on the final day which would be a remarkable comeback. Mikhail Kukushkin takes on Lukas Rosol and Golubev plays Hajek, although both captains could decide to make a change with Evgeny Korolev and Stepanek waiting in the wings if required.
Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev said: “We are going to see how the guys feel. All of the four guys understand that if you are coming into Davis Cup, you are expected to be ready to play all three days. Whoever plays tomorrow, they are going to be ready, that’s for sure.”
Doskarayev had decided to replace Korolev with Golubev for the doubles and understandably so, considering that Golubev and Schukin have a 4-2 record with each other in Davis Cup, including an impressive straight sets win over Switzerland’s Yves Allegro and Stanislas Wawrinka in the World Group play-offs in 2010.
But they faced a tough task with Stepanek on the other side of the net. The 34-year-old was making his return following neck surgery in January and is an esteemed doubles player at No. 14 in the rankings. He won last year’s Australian Open with India’s Leander Paes, as well as reaching the final of the US Open.
Hajek and Stepanek got off to a quick start as Stepanek angled a pick-up cross court to earn the break in the third game on Schukin’s serve, with the 33-year-old Kazakh showing some signs of rust early on which was understandable considering he had only played two Futures events in Kazakhstan and one Davis Cup doubles rubber this year.
The Czech pair, who were playing together for the first time, were cruising but faltered at the crucial moment when Hajek served for the set at 5-4, Golubev hitting a stunning cross court backhand return to set up the break point which Schukin converted with a volley.
The home crowd sensed the momentum was with Golubev and Schukin as the set went to a tiebreak. Two mini-breaks saw the home side move 6-2 ahead and they only needed one of their four set points when Stepanek hit his return wide.
The second set progressed on serve until Stepanek served at 4-4. The Kazakhs, sensing the visitors were losing confidence, put the pressure on and a stunning backhand lob from Golubev earned the break at the crucial moment.
Golubev then had the chance to serve the set out but had to save four break points before Schukin crossed for the backhand volley to take a two set lead.
Another break for Kazakhstan in the first game of the third set was a further dagger in the heart for the Czechs who were looking rather downbeat by this point. One match point on Stepanek’s serve at 2-5 was all that was needed as Golubev hit a powerful forehand return which Hajek had no answer for.
Schukin said: “I was nervous as when you haven’t played a lot of matches it is always tough. I told Andrey yesterday that he has to take a lead and I am going to help him. I told him ‘come on man, you have to give me some good shots’.”
It will now be intriguing to see if Czech Republic captain Jaroslav Navratil will tomorrow field Stepanek, who was the hero when he clinched the deciding point in last year’s Davis Cup final.
Navratil said: “We have to sit down tonight and I have to decide who is coming in for tomorrow. I have to speak to Radek. Normally I would want to put him in for a match on Sunday.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Dias Doskarayev (KAZ) - 06/04/2013
Jan Hajek/Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 06/04/2013
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 06/04/2013
Andrey Golubev/Yuriy Schukin (KAZ) - 06/04/2013