Romaina outlasts Japan on final day to advance in Davis Cup


OSAKA — Romania beat Japan 3-2 in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group playoff tie Sunday, Victor Hanescu overcoming Go Soeda 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-3) in the deciding rubber.

News photoJapan’s Takao Suzuki displays a back-handed volley against Andrei Pavel of Romania in the reverse single of the Davis Cup playoffs on Sunday at Namihaya Dome in Osaka. Pavel won 6-7 (6-8), 6-7 (1-7), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 en route to Romania’s 3-2 victory.

The Romanians had come back from 1-0 and 2-1 in the tie, with Andrei Pavel downing Takao Suzuki in a marathon five-set match in the first singles match of the day at Namihaya Dome Main Arena in Osaka.

Japan was hosting Romania this weekend in what is their first-ever tournament meeting. If Japan had qualified for the 2008 World Group, it would have been their first appearance since 1985.

“I am of course very disappointed but also very proud of my players,” said Japan captain Eiji Takeuchi.

“They fought from the beginning until the end. Andrei (Pavel) told me after the fifth match that we had a good spirit. They also had a good spirit but we didn’t lose in the battle of spirit.”

The more experienced Romanian team was playing their 11th playoff tie in 12 years.

“It’s a very good day for Romania,” said Hanescu. “The last match was very important and I felt a lot of pressure. “It was very close, but my serve was good and even though I was tired it stayed solid.

“It’s a big victory for Romania to stay in the World Group.”

Said Romania captain Adrian Marcu: “I was expecting a tough tie and tough matches today but the Japanese surprised us, especially Takao Suzuki. We’ve played France and the United States with (Andy) Roddick but Suzuki gave us a hard time and he is much better than his ranking suggests.”

The tie all boiled down to the final singles match between 23-year-old Soeda and Hanescu and despite Soeda’s sterling effort the 198-cm Romanian’s serve — he hit 22 aces, Soeda hit eight — proved too much.

In the first match Sunday, Pavel had stormed back from two sets down to beat Suzuki and throw Romania a lifeline.

The No. 88-ranked Romanian prevailed over the 216th-ranked Suzuki 6-7 (6-8), 6-7 (1-7), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in a match that lasted three hours, 54 minutes.

“It’s always tough to come back from two sets down,” said Pavel. “You have to take it point by point, game by game. At no point did I underestimate Takao. In hunting, never underestimate the wounded bear.

“The third set was the turning point. To win it easily gave me momentum.”

Said Suzuki: “I started off putting everything into the match and it was going well. But my elbow was hurting. When I realized that, I knew this match was heading to the fourth and fifth sets. The luck, though, didn’t go my way in the later sets.”

Hewitt pulls out

BELGRADE (AP) Australia’s No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt pulled out before a match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the Davis Cup playoffs Sunday because of a virus infection.

The former top-ranked player was replaced in the reverse singles by Chris Guccione as Australia struggled to avoid relegation to the Asia-Oceania zone for the first time since 1996. Serbia leads the best-of-five series 2-1, with the winner securing a spot in next year’s World Group.

“Hewitt is suffering from a virus infection and he cannot get out of bed with high temperature,” said Australia team captain John Fitzgerald.

Serbia has never played in the World Group, while Australia has 28 titles.

In the opening singles on Friday, the third-ranked Djokovic beat Peter Luczak in straight sets while Hewitt defeated Janko Tipsarevic in five. Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic defeated Hewitt and Paul Hanley 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 Saturday to give Serbia the lead.