Yasutaka Uchiyama scored a consolation win against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the final reverse singles on Sunday to prevent a whitewash for Japan in its Davis Cup World Group first-round tie against France.
The Japanese team had only pride to play for after France built an unassailable 3-0 lead after Friday’s opening singles rubbers and Saturday’s doubles.
Things went from bad to worse for Japan captain Minoru Ueda’s team when Yoshihito Nishioka lost Sunday’s first singles match against Nicolas Mahut after pulling out injured early in the second set at Ariake Colosseum.
But the 230th-ranked Uchiyama, who replaced Taro Daniel for the final-day singles at the 11th hour, broke the 101st-ranked Herbert with a forehand smash and took Japan’s first set of the tie before going on to serve out the match and win 6-4, 6-4.
“The plan was for Daniel, not me, to be playing today but he had a slight fever after the warm-up,” said Uchiyama. “I was supposed to be off today but and I suddenly got the call from the coach asking me to play.
“I didn’t have much time to prepare but I am glad I was able to play well. I am glad I decided to be a tennis player. I don’t get many chances to play in front of a full house at Japan’s biggest tennis venue and it gave me goosebumps.”
France captain Yannick Noah decided to replace Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon with Mahut and Herbert in the reverse singles.
The 42nd-ranked Mahut, who teamed up with Herbert to beat Uchiyama and Yuichi Sugita in the doubles, romped past Nishioka 6-1 in a first set lasting just 22 minutes.
Nishioka, at No. 85 Japan’s top-ranked player in the absence of fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori, underwent treatment on his left wrist during the break and eventually pulled out of the second set with the score tied at 1-1.
“It’s much easier to play when we have won the tie already but it is still the Davis Cup and I wanted to play like I was under pressure in a normal match,” said Mahut.
“All the staff and the players were more relaxed today,” added Mahut, who left Saturday night’s winning celebration party early to get ready for Sunday’s match.
“You can’t celebrate as much as you want when you have to play the day after, but I hope I have time to celebrate this one,” he said.
Nishioka, who lost to Simon in Friday’s singles, said: “We lost the tie 4-1 and I lost twice and could not even take a set off the French team. It’s disappointing but that is the reality.
“Ability-wise, that is where I am at the moment so there is a lot for me to do in order to learn and grow. The Davis Cup is over and the U.S. season starts so I would like to focus on that and try to do well in the States to get my ranking up.”
France, last year’s semifinalist, will face either Canada or Britain in the quarterfinals in April. Japan will be fighting to retain its place in the World Group after dropping into a playoff to be played in September.
“Today was a dead rubber but it was a very big match in my career and for my team and we are very positive for the playoff in September,” said Uchiyama.
Japan was missing Nishikori, absent due to what he termed a “packed schedule” on the tour, but the French were without their two highest-ranked players, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“Coming up with a team is difficult and every time we will have to discuss this issue with the players and see what is best for Japan,” said Ueda.
“In order for Japan to remain in the World Group, Nishikori is a must so we need to solicit his participation. But through discussion we might not have that outcome and may have to approach the next step with this group as well.”