Japan clinched its Davis Cup first-round tie with Canada 3-1 on Sunday when Canada No. 1 Frank Dancevic was forced to default his reverse singles match against Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori due to injury.
Nishikori was leading 6-2, 1-0 indoors on the hardcourt at Ariake Colosseum when the match was halted.
The victory means Japan will advance to the quarterfinal round in the World Group for the first time ever. Japan will meet the winner of the Czech Republic-Netherlands tie in Tokyo on April 4-6.
Japan No. 2 Go Soeda defeated Canada No. 2 Peter Polansky 6-1, 6-4 in a three-set dead rubber to make the final margin of victory 4-1 on Sunday.
Japan captain Minoru Ueda was philosophical after the victory.
“If Canada’s No. 1 and No. 2 players had been healthy, the result could have been different,” he said. “What I learned from this tie is how important the condition of the team is.”
When asked what the significance of the historic win was for Japan, Ueda said time will tell.
“There is a big meaning in making the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup,” he commented. “I think it will be seen in the next round when the players have to step it up at the next level.”
Dancevic’s injury was just the latest for the Canadian team in the tie.
Canada’s top-ranked player, Milos Raonic, was forced to withdraw with a foot injury on Thursday, while Vasek Pospisil, who was originally slated to play doubles on Saturday, was unable to recover in time from an injury. Both were hurt at the Australian Open last month.
“I pulled a stomach muscle. I hurt it on a serve in the second set,” said Dancevic. “There was no way I could continue against a player like Kei in that condition.”
Dancevic said he was not in the best shape physically coming into the contest.
“I played a lot this weekend. I don’t play much doubles on the tour,” he said. “If this wasn’t Davis Cup, I probably would not have even stepped on the court today.”
Nishikori had a hand in all three Japan victories in the tie. He won his opening singles match on Friday against Polansky in straight sets, then teamed up with Yasutaka Uchiyama for a four-set victory in doubles over Dancevic and Daniel Nestor on Saturday.
“The pressure is always on me to win both singles matches,” Nishikori said. “This time I was able to help win three matches.”
Nishikori was pleased that Japan reached its target in the tie.
“The quarterfinals was our goal after getting back in the World Group,” he stated. “To do it in the first year is very rewarding.”
Ueda saluted Nishikori for his crucial role in the triumph.
“I trust Kei,” he said. “I think his skill level is the same as No. 1 players in other countries.”
Nishikori wasted little time in taking control of the match, breaking Dancevic in the third game of the first set to go up 2-1. Nishikori then broke again for a 4-1 lead and took the set 6-2 on serve with an ace in just 29 minutes.
Nishikori used a blazing forehand and sublime serves in the first set and picked up where he left off in the second, breaking Dancevic in the first game.
Following the break, Dancevic took an injury timeout but was unable to continue due to what appeared to be a stomach muscle injury.
Dancevic acknowledged that he was in trouble against Nishikori before he got hurt.
“Kei came out playing really well,” he noted. “There wasn’t much I could do in that first set.”
Canada captain Martin Laurendeau bemoaned the bad luck that befell his squad.
“You don’t prepare for these kind of weekends. It just happens,” he commented. “We were really looking forward to this tie. Some of the bodies just fell apart.”
Laurendeau recognized that there are many factors involved in Davis Cup play.
“You need singles, you need doubles,” he stated. “A lot of elements have to fall in place to win in the World Group. Last year they did.”
Canada lost in the semifinals last fall to Serbia 3-2.
Japan beat Colombia 3-2 last September to return to the World Group following a one-year absence.
Japan now has a 6-0 record all-time against Canada in Davis Cup play. The two countries had not played each other since 1938.