ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq hits a return to Uchida Kaichi of Japan during their singles match in the Davis Cup World Group-I tie at the Pakistan Sports Complex on Friday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq hits a return to Uchida Kaichi of Japan during their singles match in the Davis Cup World Group-I tie at the Pakistan Sports Complex on Friday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

ISLAMABAD: Inexperience didn’t matter much for the young Japanese against their more experienced rivals from Pakistan.

Yosuke Watanuki and Kaichi Uchida won their singles matches in straight sets against Aqeel Khan and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi respectively on the opening day of the Davis Cup World Group-I tie here at the Pakistan Sports Complex on Friday to put Japan within one win of clinching the first-round tie.

Watanuki tamed Aqeel 6-3, 6-2 before Uchida overpowered Aisam 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to leave the hosts needing to win all of the remaining three matches — doubles and two reverse singles — if they are to advance.

Seven of Japan’s top-ranked players, including Kei Nishikori, skipped the tie due to their international engagements with Watanuki their highest-ranked player at world number 269.

The 22-year-old kept Aqeel, nearly two decades older than him at 41 and playing his 112nd Davis Cup match, under pressure with his speed and accuracy as he hit 12 aces along with some powerful forehand winners.

Watanuki broke Aqeel’s third serve in first set and then at 4-3 to take the game away, keeping the same momentum in the second set to wrap up a victory in an hour and 15 minutes.

The 40-year-old Aisam took Uchida, 16 years younger than him, to a tie-breaker in the second set but despite playing on his favourite grasscourt, made 11 double-faults to lose the match.

The tie is being played with strict adherence to the Covid-19 protocols set by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Of the 24 ties across World Group I and World Group II, four are taking place this weekend, with the remaining 20 ties scheduled for September.

The eight highest-ranked winning nations of the World Group I ties in March-September 2021 will automatically progress to the 2022 Davis Cup.

The four lowest-ranked winners will take part in an additional knock-out tie in November, with the two winners progressing to the 2022 Qualifiers and two losers contesting the 2022 World Group I Play-offs.

The losing nations from the World Group I ties will compete in the World Group I Play-Offs in 2022.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021

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