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Spotlight shines on world No. 12 Nishikori for Davis Cup tie against Colombia

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori will face Colombia No. 2 Alejandro Falla in Friday’s opening singles match at the Davis Cup World Group Playoff at Ariake Colosseum as the host nation tries to return to the top level of the competition after a year in the Asia-Oceania Zone. The draw was conducted Thursday morning at the venue.

Nishikori, ranked 12th in the world, will play No. 93rd Falla under the roof at Ariake, which will be the site of the tennis competition at the 2020 Olympics. The tie had orginally been slated to be played outdoors, but Japan captain Minoru Ueda requested the change to indoors earlier in the week.

The second singles match on Friday will feature Japan No. 2 Go Soeda against Colombia No. 1 Santiago Giraldo.

Colombia captain Martin Hadad has tabbed Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah for Saturday’s doubles against Nishikori and Soeda.

Japan was knocked out of World Group last September after a 3-2 loss to Israel at Ariake. Japan had returned to the top level for the first time in 27 years, but was unable to stay there. It defeated South Korea 3-2 in April to advance to the playoff.

“We had a tough match against Israel last year and we want to get back in the World Group,” said Nishikori. “I didn’t play the first tie this year. It was the other team members who got us to this point, so I want to contribute to a victory.”

Falla said he is ready for the challenge of going against Japan’s top-ranked men’s player ever.

“I have been injured the past five weeks, but I am ready now,” he stated. “I look forward to playing Kei. He is a strong player.”

Soeda, who is ranked 131st, knows the pressure will be on the host nation this weekend.

“There are always nerves before these kind of matches,” he acknowledged. “We just have to do our best.”

Giraldo, who is 85th in the world, is familiar with the Ariake hardcourt from his participation in the ATP tournament here.

“We have had good preparations and the court is fast,” noted Giraldo. “I have confidence and we like the surface.”

Ueda, in his first year at the helm, said preparing for the tie has been a process.

“We have been going step-by-step with the players building up for this,” he commented. “Colombia has good singles and doubles players, so we know we are in for a battle.”

Colombia made the playoff after routing Uruguay 5-0 in April.

Hadad brought his squad to Japan a week ahead of the tie to try and acclimatize to the conditions and get over jet lag.

“We are ready for anything, having been here for several days now,” said Hadad. “We have a lot of respect for all of Japan’s players. They are a very good team.”

Nishikori, who will meet Giraldo in the first reverse singles on Sunday, is coming off a first-round loss at the U.S. Open but feels good about Japan’s prospects in the tie.

“I have been practicing with Go the last two weeks at the National Training Center, so I think I am in good form.”

The 23-year-old Nishikori played doubles with Soeda at last summer’s London Olympics.