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Japan, Israel tied up after first day of Davis Cup World Group playoff

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Japan and Israel are deadlocked 1-1 following the opening day of play in their Davis Cup World Group playoff at Ariake Colosseum on Friday.

Japan No. 2 Go Soeda beat Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela in four sets 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the opening match, while Israel No. 2 Amir Weintraub downed Japan No. 3 Tatsuma Ito 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the second singles contest.

Ito was playing in place of Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori, who was ruled out Friday morning with a shoulder injury. Nishikori has not been completely scratched from the tie and could play in the reverse singles matches on Sunday.

Israel captain Eyal Ran was pleased to have the tie even after the first day of action.

“This was a classical day of Davis Cup with the players going all out and fighting for their country,” he commented. “We are in this tie and I think we can do it now.”

Soeda, ranked 55th in the world, displayed a strong forehand and played solidly from the baseline in recording the victory under a blazing sun on the hardcourt.

The win was the first for Soeda against Sela in four career matches.

“I knew I had to win. I couldn’t lose,” said Soeda. “I was under pressure to show my best. It was a tough match and a big win for me.”

After Sela broke Soeda’s serve to open the match, the Japanese broke right back. Following the fifth game, Sela took an injury timeout.

Soeda broke in the sixth game with a volley to go up 4-2. He then broke again in the eighth game to take the set 6-2 in 46 minutes.

Soeda had eight winners in the first set, while Sela committed 21 unforced errors.

Sela, ranked 98th, served better in the second set, getting in 74 percent of his first serves, but after breaking Soeda in the first game and holding serve to go up 2-0, he came undone with several more unforced errors.

Soeda took six of the next eight games, breaking Sela in the 10th game to claim the set in 43 minutes.

Sela had 19 unforced errors in the second set.

The Israeli battled back in the third set, using an effective backhand to help record 14 winner’s to Soeda two and claimed the set 6-3 in 34 minutes.

Sela broke twice and saw Soeda rack up 14 unforced errors in the set.

“I was tired in the third set and then Sela started playing really well,” Soeda commented. “There was an overrule on a call and I lost focus and he took the momentum from me. Then in the fourth set I started playing aggressively again and was able to get it back.”

The 28-year-old Soeda closed out the match by getting in 74 percent of his first serves in the fourth set and converting several key points to clinch the victory.

“The start of the match was tough,” noted Sela. “I was short with my balls and he was aggressive. I felt better in the second set, but he was solid and didn’t give me any free points.”

Sela recognized fatigue in his opponent in the third set and capitalized on it.

“I was more aggressive in the third set. He was getting tired at the end of that set. If he kept playing like that, I thought I could win the match, but then he took the first two games of the fourth set at love. He deserved to win.”

Weintraub routed Ito in the second match, registering the triumph in just 1 hour, 55 minutes. Weintraub didn’t let his lower ranking (223) hold him back against Ito (67th), dominating in every phase of the game.

Weintraub exhibited a strong serve (11 aces) and excellent groundstrokes in the clinical victory. Ito was bedeviled by his 49 unforced errors in the defeat.

“I was surprised when I heard that Nishikori wasn’t going to play, but I was concentrating on myself,” said Weintraub. “It was good news for us. It wasn’t easy against Ito, but of course Nishikori has a higher ranking.”

In analyzing his performance, the 25-year-old Weintraub gave himself high marks.

“My serve was very good. He didn’t break me the whole match,” he said. “I used good combinations, mixing up speeds and playing strong from the baseline. This was one of the better wins in my career.”

Saturday’s doubles match will see Ito and Yuichi Sugita take on Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.