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Japan, Czech Republic turn to replacements in Davis Cup tie

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

The Czech Republic will continue its bid for a third straight Davis Cup title against an undermanned Japan this weekend in their World Group quarterfinal tie at Ariake Colosseum.

The draw for the event was held on court at the venue on Thursday morning.

Czech No. 2 Radek Stepanek will face Japan No. 1 Tatsuma Ito in the opening singles match on Friday, with Czech No. 1 Lukas Rosol facing Japan No. 2 Taro Daniel in the second match.

Saturday’s doubles will see Stepanek and Jiri Vesely take on Ito and Yasutaka Uchiyama.

The reverse singles on Sunday will pit Rosol vs. Ito in the first contest, with Stepanek against Daniel in the second.

Both sides go into the tie minus their top players. Tomas Berdych will not play for the Czechs following two tough tournaments in the United States, while Kei Nishikori is out due to an injured groin suffered in a quarterfinal victory over Roger Federer in the Sony Open last week in Miami.

Japan, which is appearing in its first World Group quarterfinal ever, suffered an additional blow overnight as Go Soeda, scheduled to be Japan’s No. 1 in the tie, came down with a fever and will not play on Friday as expected.

Though it now looks like it could be a lopsided tie on paper, Czech captain Jarosav Navratil, who has only three players available, remains wary.

“Who plays who is not important. We must concentrate on our game and get three points for Sunday,” said Navratil. “In Davis Cup rankings are not important. Japan will still have strong team.”
Japan captain Minoru Ueda said his charges will do their best despite the challenge they are facing.

“So many things have happened in this tie already,” noted Ueda. “We have had to change members, change the order of the players. Everybody is working hard to show what they have.”

Rosol, who is ranked 40th in the world, is confident his nation can advance to the semifinals without Berdych.

“Coming into the tie it looked like we would be the underdogs, but now we are the favorites,” Rosol stated. “This can happen in Davis Cup with people being injured or having to pull out. We think we will have the three points on Sunday.”

Ito, ranked 146th, who was unlikely to play singles before the injury to Nishikori and Soeda’s illness, plans to make the most of his opportunity.

“I am going to attack and be aggressive,” he said. “I will try to play my tennis from the beginning. I will be nervous, but am prepared to do my best.”

Stepanek, 47th in the rankings, is not underestimating the chances of the host nation.

“Japan has lost its top two players, but we know they will show their best,” Stepanek commented.

Soeda still hopes to get on the court during the weekend.

“I’m disappointed that I can’t play on the first day, but I will do my best to recover for the third day,” Soeda said.

Vesely was blunt in his assessment of the matchup.

“We believe we have the better team and will win the tie,” Vesely said.

Daniel, ranked 190th, will be playing for Japan for the first time ever in the tie.

“I’m very proud to have been given the chance to represent Japan in the quarterfinals of the World Group,” said the Japanese-American. “I’m going to enjoy this opportunity.”

Ueda believes his team may actually capitalize despite the odds being against them.

“Ito and Daniel have a big chance here,” he said. “They have nothing to lose.”

Japan defeated Canada in the first round in February, while the Czechs beat the Netherlands in their first-round tie.

The meeting between Japan and the Czech Republic is the first since 1935 and third all time. The nations split their two previous ties in Prague, with Japan winning the first in 1930.