Kazakhstani tennis players made it through to the group stage of the Davis Cup
After the International Tennis Federation (ITF) changed the format of the Davis Cup in 2019, the men’s team of Kazakhstan took part in the final tournament twice: they took the final 10th place in 2019 in Madrid, and two years later, also in Madrid, they made it to the quarterfinals (the tournament was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). And now, after their confident victory in Oslo over the Norwegians, we are waiting for the third trial among the 16 best teams in the world.
2-1 before the meeting of the leaders
The duels of the first playing day, in which the first rackets of the national teams of Norway and Kazakhstan opposed the second numbers of these teams, quite naturally ended in confident victories for the leaders: World No. 8 Casper Ruud outplayed Mikhail Kukushkin (No. 160) with a score of 6:1, 6:4, and Alexander Bublik (No. 32) restored the balance in the match, just as confidently taking over Viktor Durasovich (No. 321) – 6:3, 6:2.
Now a lot depended on the outcome of the doubles meeting, which preceded the two singles in the second day programme. We had announced (and there were no surprises here) Andrey Golubev and Aleksandr Nedovyesov, who played well cohesively for a long time, the 27th and 65th rackets of the world in doubles. However, the captain (head coach) of the hosts, Anders Haaseth, brought a surprise by pairing Durasovich with not the originally announced Ruud, but with Simen Sunde Bratholm. Making a kind of a birthday gift to the player who turned 23 the day before.
I confess that Bratholm was for me the most mysterious character out of all the Norwegian players. Yes, tall – 188 cm, yes, he is the ambassador of Aktiv mot kreft, the Norwegian cancer foundation, but why the ATP website dates his last activity as February 2018, when in the Davis Cup match against the Egyptians he lost to Mohamed Safwat, well-known to our fans, and, paired with Durasovich, lost to the duet of Safwat/Hossam? A quick search on the Internet showed that in the same year, Simen Sunde entered the Northwestern University in Chicago (USA) to combine serious studies with training and performances in student tournaments under the auspices of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).
By the way, this is how many tennis players do it – first getting an education, and then going into the pros. For example, from the biographical information on the WTA website of 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, you can find out that after transferring from the University of Florida to the University of Virginia after her first year, the American won the US student singles championship twice – in 2014 and 2016.
But let’s go back to the pair duel. The game began – and it turned out that Bratholm and Durasovich by no means effaced themselves in front of Golubev and Nedovyesov. Moreover, on the very first serve of Aleksandr, they made a break and soon took the lead with a score of 4:1. Durasovich was especially good at these moments, having “warmed up” quite well the day before. So our captain Yuri Schukin had to make adjustments to the game of his former partners and nowadays mentees. They began to play aggressively, began going to the net together more often and managed to respond with a break on Bratholm’s serve – 4:4.
It came to a tie-break – and this put everyone over the edge. Having played back from 1:4 and 3:5, our guys did not convert two set points: with the score 6:5 on the opponent serve and 7:6 on their own. Immediately, Nedovyesov makes a double mistake – and now the Norwegians miss the chance to take the first game twice in a row. Only from the 4th set ball Aleksandr, with the most powerful smash, puts the winning point in this game – 7:6 (12:10). This set lasted more than an hour (65 minutes) – this is too much for a doubles meet.
In the second set, the advantage of our pair was already very tangible: having led with a score of 3:0, Andrey and Aleksandr calmly brought to victory both the game – 6:3, and the meet as a whole. That’s the seventh victory of this duo in 11 Davis Cup meets!
2-1 – our guys led before the meeting of the leaders.
In early February, Alexander Bublik won his first title, having literally destroyed the third racket of the world German Alexander Zverev – 6:4, 6:3, in the final of the tournament in French Montpellier. Even then, I was struck by how calm, I would even say, to the point of phlegm, Sasha was, especially against the background of an excited opponent, who kept having arguments with the umpire.
Yet the outcome of the meeting with the first racket of the hosts caused some reasonable fears. After all, the 23-year-old Casper Ruud, although he is considered a recognized master of playing on clay courts (he won six out of seven titles on clay and only one on the hard court, last year in San Diego, USA), is also quite successful on hard courts. Moreover, under the roof of Oslo Tennisarena one of the slowest varieties of Plexipave hard surface is laid – an analogue of what is used in San Diego and Indian Wells.
Watching Ruud’s matches, one cannot fail to notice the similarity of his game with the game of Rafael Nadal. And this is not a coincidence, because Casper is a non-standard Norwegian: he does not like the cold and winter sports, especially as after his first victories in “futures” and “challenges” he started to spend a lot of time at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, training there under the guidance of Pedro Clar-Rossello and his own father Christian Ruud, ex-World No.39.
It was Clar-Rossello who enriched the already rich technical arsenal of the Norwegian with Rafa’s main trump card – a twisted top spin from the forehand. And the great Spaniard himself often acts as a sparring partner for Casper: “Every time I arrive at Nadal’s academy, we mingle great with him. I confess that Rafa has helped me a lot in recent years. My achievements are largely his merit, this is obvious,” quotes Ruud’s words Tennis Head, one of the most popular tennis publications in the world.
However, Alexander Bublik started the duel with Ruud as if there had never been three defeats in three matches in the history of their relationship. First of all, I was surprised by the aggressive style of the game, which can be seen both in the number of actively won balls (winners) – 25 vs. 16, and in the points won after net approaches – 8 out of 13 vs. 2 out of 4. And how not to mention Sasha’s signature move – ace on the second serve! Until the score was 4:4, Casper, not without problems though, kept his serve, but could not withstand the pressure in the ninth game: he won the first break point after a double fault, but on the second one he again made a fault twice on the serve. Serving the set, Bublik was cold-blooded, and with a score of 40:15 he played in the Serve-and-Volley style – serving and approaching the net, the last brightest representative of which was American Pete Sampras. 6:4 – our tennis player took the lead.
The second game developed according to the same scenario: Ruud was taking his serve not without problems, Sasha was easily bouncing back. Until the very end when his first serve failed. And with a score of 5:6, he did not manage to win back.
All the more surprising was the beginning of the deciding third game: again Ruud was the first to serve – and immediately Bublik made a break! With the score 1:2, the Norwegian turns to the umpire, Eva Asderaki-Moore, and takes a medical time-out – as it seemed, due to problems with the abdominal muscles. Although this did not greatly affect his further actions, Alexander continued to confidently break his serve. However, it was alarming that, having led 4:2, our tennis player practically stopped clinging to the opponent’s serve, preferring to save strength for his own. And now the score is 5:4, Sasha serves for the match, starts with an ace, the 14th in a row, then alternates points from the first serve with double faults, and on the very first match point he enters the court from the serve and, with all his strength, twists from the forehand the ball received by Ruud softly. 6:4, 5:7, 6:4 – it’s a victory.
The duel of the second numbers was not needed. 3-1 – the Kazakhstan national team won a landslide victory away and got a ticket to the group stage of the final tournament.
I would like to note the work of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation in organizing support for our tennis players: in the stands of Oslo Tennisarena, six dozen fans in the colors of the national flag of Kazakhstan were clearly visible and audible, among which, traditionally, a small but very well-coordinated vocal and instrumental ensemble stood out, conducted by Marat Baimukhametov ,Erlan Bekishev and Alina Vitova.
Write 15 and carry 1 over
To remind, from 14 to 18 September in four cities (to be defined later), 16 national teams will determine the top eight teams, which from 23 to 27 November will, in a knockout system, bring to light the winner of the Davis Cup – the 2022 world champion.
So, who has been added to the national teams of Croatia, the 2021 finalist and No. 1 in the rankings as of 1 March, and of Serbia (No. 11) and Great Britain (No. 8) getting the wild cards?
Here are the results of the qualifying matches: France (No. 3) – Ecuador – 4-0, Spain (No. 2) – Romania – 3-1, Finland – Belgium (No. 10) – 2-3, USA (No. 4) – Colombia – 4 -0, Netherlands (No. 20) – Canada – 4-0, Brazil – Germany (No. 5) – 1-3, Slovakia – Italy (No. 7) – 2-3, Australia (No. 15) – Hungary – 3-2 , Norway – KAZAKHSTAN (No. 9) – 1-3, Sweden (No. 13) – Japan – 3-2, Argentina (No. 12) – Czech Republic – 4-0, South Korea (No. 21) – Austria – 3-1.
The participation of Russia (No. 14), the 2021 world champion, temporarily suspended from all tournaments under the auspices of the ITF due to aggression in Ukraine, remains in question.