Japan will be looking to remain in the World Group for the second straight year when it takes on Israel in their Davis Cup playoff tie starting on Friday at Ariake Colosseum.
After a 26-year absence, Japan advanced to the World Group with a victory over India last September at Ariake. Japan then lost on home soil to Croatia 2-3 in their first-round tie in Hyogo Prefecture in February.
Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori will again be counted on to come through for his nation. Nishikori, currently ranked 24th, advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, but has had to overcome a recent injury to his stomach muscles.
Israel earned the shot at the World Group via its 3-2 victory over Portugal in their Group I Europe/Africa match in April. Israel No. 1 Amir Weintraub and No. 2 Dudi Sela both notched first-day victories to send the Israelis on their way to victory against the Portuguese.
Thursday’s draw determined that Sela will take on Go Soeda in the first singles match on Friday, while Weintraub meets Nishikori in the second.
Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita will battle Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich in Saturday’s doubles, while Sunday’s reverse singles are scheduled to be Nishikori vs. Sela and Soeda vs Weintraub.
Both captains exuded confidence at Thursday’s post-draw press conference.
“We are happy with the draw,” said Japan captain Toshiro Sakai. “The team is ready. There is a lot of pressure in the Davis Cup, so our players must perform at the highest level.”
“We have had a great week of practice,” stated Israel captain Eyal Ran. “Playing Japan here is going to be a challenge, but we are looking forward to it.”
The tie will mark the first-ever meeting between the nations in Davis Cup play.
Nishikori, Japan’s highest-ranked male player ever, feels the team has put the disappointing loss to Croatia behind it.
“That was a tough match. We lost 3-2 at home,” he commented. “Now we have to face a team with veteran players like Dudi and Amir.”
“We have a tough team that is hungry,” noted Ram. “We have experience on our side. We are looking forward to the tie and hoping to go back into the World Group.”
Sela, ranked 98th, was analytical in his outlook on the tie.
“They have very good players, but we have played some of them many times before. I am feeling good. Practice has gone well for us.”
Soeda knows he is facing a tall order in Sela, a player he has never beaten.
“His backhand slice is very effective,” Soeda said. “He has a variety of shots that he can control well. I have to play my game against him. I think I have a chance because this is the first time to play him in a five-set match.”
Captain Ram acknowledged that despite Japan having the homecourt advantage, it will also be under pressure to prevail.
“We know Japan has very good players and they have a lot of expectations on them,” Ram concluded. “With Davis Cup you never know how it is going to. Anything can happen.”