OSAKA - Japan took a 2-0 lead on the first day of its Davis Cup World Cup playoff tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday despite the absence of U.S. Open semifinalist Kei Nishikori.
With Nishikori unavailable for the hosts, world No. 72 Taro Daniel put Japan in charge of the tie, crushing Tomislav Brkic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6.
Ranked 240th in the world, Brkic was no match for the 25-year-old Daniel, who smashed down 15 aces to wrap up the rubber in just over two hours at ITC Utsubo Tennis Center.
He had his chances to extend the match in the third set, but Daniel never looked in doubt in the breaker, taking it 7-3 just as rain began to fall.
“I couldn’t be happier with how I played,” Daniel told reporters.
“The support really helped make it easier. You’re playing for the fans in the Davis Cup, playing tennis from the heart.”
Yoshihito Nishioka punched about his weight in the second match as the world No. 170 thrashed 79th-ranked Mirza Basic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 to give Japan a big advantage going into Saturday’s doubles.
Japan tends to struggle without Nishikori in the Davis Cup, however, and is in a World Group playoff for the fourth consecutive year after losing to Italy in 2017.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is through to this stage of the competition for the first time, but will need a dramatic turnaround to secure a World Group berth.
The winners of the playoffs advance to the 2019 World Group, while the losers are relegated to their respective regional zone.
Under a new format approved for the 2019 tournament, 18 nations will compete in a week-long season finale to decide the Davis Cup champion. Twenty-four teams will play in a qualifying round in February to advance to the final stage.