LONDON: Five nations sealed their debuts in the revamped Davis Cup Finals in the weekend’s qualifiers while heavyweights Germany, Australia, United States and Croatia also booked their places in Madrid.
Ecuador, Sweden, Hungary, Czech Republic and Austria will all be in next week’s draw for the 18-nation showdown at La Caja Magica in the Spanish capital in November, having missed the inaugural finals last year when the international teams event was revamped.
Ecuador’s 3-0 victory over Japan was less surprising than it might look as hosts Japan were without Kei Nishikori because of injury and world number 48 Yoshihito Nishioka, who did not travel because he was concerned that the coronavirus crisis would prevent his return to the United States. The match in Miki was played with no fans.
The South Americans made light of the strange environment, however, with Gonzalo Escobar and Diego Hidalgo securing the winning point in a decisive doubles victory over Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchiyama.
Sweden, who won the Davis Cup on seven occasions between 1975 and 1998 but have been in the doldrums, beat Chile 3-1 with Mikael Ymer claiming the decisive point.
Hungary, who will host this year’s revamped Fed Cup finals, claimed a thrilling 3-2 win over Belgium.
Trailing 2-1 after Saturday’s doubles, they went through with singles wins for Attila Balazs and Marton Fuscovics.
Fuscovics trailed Riben Bemelmans by a set but hit back to win 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 6-2.
Czech Republic did not have to travel far to book their ticket, just across the border to Bratislava where they completed a 3-1 victory over Slovakia.
In a late-night finish, Czech number one Jiri Vesely dug deep to beat Andrej Martin 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Austria, without world number three Dominic Thiem, ended the hopes of Uruguay in Graz with Dennis Novak beating Pablo Cuevas to give his side a 3-1 win.
India caused a stir in Zagreb where veteran duo Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna edged Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor 6-3, 6-7 (9-11), 7-5 in Saturday’s doubles to keep alive the tie with Croatia. But Marin Cilic quickly doused Indian hopes with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Sumit Nagal.
Colombia made the most of Bogota’s high altitude to defeat 2016 champions Argentina for the first time.
Level at 1-1 overnight, world number one doubles pair Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah edged Maximo Gonzalez and Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5 with Daniel Elahi Galan securing a place in the final thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 win against Juan Ignacio Londero.
Elsewhere, Kazakhstan defeated the Netherlands when Alexander Bublik saw off Robin Haase 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 while Germany sealed a 4-1 win over Belarus with Jan-Lennard Struff winning his second rubber of the weekend, seeing off Egor Gerasimov 6-3, 6-2.
Italy crushed South Korea 4-0 in Cagliari in another tie shorn of fans because of coronavirus concerns.
It was a sweet Davis Cup farewell for US doubles duo Bob and Mike Bryan in Hawaii.
The twin brothers, playing what they said would be their last Davis Cup tie, defeated Sanjar Fayziev and Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-4 in just 67 minutes to give the United States an unassailable 3-0 lead over Uzbekistan.
John Millman was Australia’s star in Adelaide, wearing down Thiago Monteiro 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3) to give the 28-time champions a 3-1 victory over Brazil.
Six teams had already qualified for the Madrid showdown, the second version since the event was revamped in a $3-billion deal over 25 years between the ITF and Kosmos, the Spanish investment firm of Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique.
Last year’s winners Spain, runners-up Canada and losing semi-finalists Britain and Russia, as well as wildcards Serbia and France did not need to play in the qualifiers.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020