MIKI, HYOGO PREF. – Japan and Croatia are tied 1-1 after the opening day of their Davis Cup World Group first-round tie on Friday at Bourbon Beans Dome.
Go Soeda staked Japan to a 1-0 lead in the opening match with a victory over Ivan Dodig, however ace Kei Nishikori was surprised by Ivo Karlovic and fell in straight sets 3-6, 3-6,
Soeda, ranked 90th in the world, stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Dodig in a five-set thriller 6-7 (3-7), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5, that lasted 4 hours, 5 minutes.
The victory by the Kanagawa native was an historic one, as Japan had never won a match in the World Group in the 31 years under the current system. Japan lost its two previous ties 5-0 to Sweden (1981) and the United States (1985).
Soeda prevailed despite Dodig’s 23 aces. Soeda got in an amazing 96 percent (55 of 57) second serves in the victory.
The difference in the match came down to unforced errors, with the 55th-ranked Dodig committing 70 to Soeda’s 54.
Soeda displayed great fortitude in rallying for the win after dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker.
Nishikori, playing at home for the first time since his quarterfinal showing at the Australian Open last month, was overwhelmed by Karlovic’s serve in the loss.
Karlovic, ranked 57th, recorded 18 aces to Nishikori’s one in the triumph.
“I just couldn’t find my rhythm at all,” Nishikori said. “I made a lot of unforced errors and failed to get into rallies. He also served very well today. Against a big server, you can’t drop your service games so easily.”
Nishikori made 25 unforced errors in the loss to Karlovic’s 14.
The 22-year-old Nishikori made history in Melbourne by becoming the first Japanese male to make the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam tournament since 1932. His performance in Australia raised his ranking to 20th, making him the top-ranked male player in Japanese history.
Japan, playing in the World Group for the first time since 1985, gained promotion with a 4-1 victory over India in their playoff at Ariake Colosseum in September.
Saturday will see Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita take on Karlovic and Lovro Zovko in doubles.
The reverse singles on Sunday will pit Nishikori against Dodig and Soeda versus Karlovic.
“I wish I could play a little better because I don’t get to play many matches in Japan,” Nishikori said. “I’ve never faced that type of player. He easily came back with powerful serves even after being down 0-30. He didn’t let me play my game. Now I just have to regroup and win the next match on Sunday.”