• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Richard Gasquet brushed aside Taro Daniel in straight sets and Gilles Simon routed Yoshihito Nishioka to give France a 2-0 lead over Japan in their Davis Cup World Group first-round tie on Friday.

Gasquet, the world No. 18, was in total control from start to finish in the day’s singles opener on the indoor hard court at Ariake Colosseum, cruising to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over his 114th-ranked opponent.

“I think I played well,” said Gasquet, who fired off 23 winners to Daniel’s four. “Taro is a solid player and that is why he is close to the top 100 and was No. 85 last year.

“I know he is tough to play and that I needed to work on my game and not make many mistakes and concentrate. I am in great shape and practiced a lot and think I am playing well. Today was a great match for me and it could have been worse.”

Nishioka, who in the absence of world No. 5 Kei Nishikori is Japan’s top-ranked player here at No. 85, fell to 24th-ranked Simon in the second singles match 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Gasquet came from 40-15 down to break Daniel, who had double-faulted twice, in the first game of the match and then again in the fifth, taking a 4-1 lead when Daniel hit his backhand return long.

Daniel pulled a game back to make it 5-2 but Gasquet served it out to take the first set in just 40 minutes.

The Frenchman continued his dominance, firing a sizzling backhand down the line to grab a 2-1 advantage in the second, with Daniel chasing shadows.

Daniel briefly rallied to make it 3-3, but Gasquet broke straight back and Daniel handed him the set on a plate by botching a routine smash and following that up with a double fault.

It was more of the same in the final set, another accurate backhand giving Gasquet a 4-2 lead before he wrapped up the victory in just over two hours courtesy of yet another Daniel double fault, his seventh of the match.

“I was nervous at the start and my timing was off with my serve,” said Daniel. “But it was not because I was tense (that I made more double faults during the match) it is because Richard was returning everything.

“I thought that I might as well go for it even on my second serve so I did consciously take risks.”

Nishioka was tasked with filling the void left by world Nishikori, who opted out of the tie due to a packed tour schedule.

But despite being a break up in the first and second set and making a fist of it in the third, he could not pull Japan level as Simon claimed victory in the second singles rubber.

“I was a break up in the first and second set and I think honestly speaking that I had some chances,” Nishioka said. “But twice I was broken right after the games that I got breaks.

“I did well during certain periods but I was not able to continue playing at that level. The momentum that I had got going was severed midway through the match.”

Simon said the match was harder than the final result would suggest and had plenty of praise for his Japanese opponent.

“It was harder in the third set but I think it was also difficult in the first and second,” said Simon.

“I was a break down in the second set but I had some very good games in a row to finish it on 6-3.

“I really felt today that I had a nice sensation on the court and when I was able to play perfect I was a bit on top of him (Nishioka). But every time I was passive he was there waiting to play some good shots also and that’s what we saw in the end.

“He is a really good player and it was difficult today from the first point. I was moving good and hitting well but he was always on the ball and not giving away any free points, so I realized I would have to fight on every single point, and then I found a good rhythm.”

Yuichi Sugita and Yasutaka Uchiyama are set to play Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the doubles on Saturday, with Nishioka to meet Gasquet and Daniel to play Simon in the reverse singles on Sunday.

Despite being in position to move into the last eight, Simon warned that the tie was far from over.

“When you win two matches in a row in straight sets there is nothing to complain about but we have to stay ready,” Simon said. “They (Herbert and Mahut) have the doubles tomorrow and I am pretty confident with them but in tennis you never know who is going to win so we are going to stay focused.”

France holds a 3-0 win over Japan in Davis Cup head-to-heads. In the most recent meeting, in 1981, France recorded a 4-1 win at Roland Garros.

Venus exits early

AFP-JIJI

Venus Williams blamed poor fitness for her 55-minute defeat to Kristina Mladenovic at the St. Petersburg Trophy on Thursday, five days after losing to sister Serena in the Australian Open final.

The 36-year-old, seeded fourth, slumped to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to her French opponent in her second-round match after receiving a first-round bye.

“Today I wasn’t in my best of health,” Williams said.

“I felt pain in my legs. I had similar feelings during my last match in Australia. I also felt some lack of energy. . . . Also she (Mladenovic) played really well.

” She has played almost a perfect match and gave me no chance today.”

Mladenovic raced into a 5-0 lead before Williams, who was experiencing problems with her left thigh, chalked up her first game of the match.

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