Bring on India! During a week when the absence of Taiwan’s top player Lu Yen-hsun and Kazakhstan’s three top-200 Russian imports threatened to become the main storylines of their Asia/Oceania Zone Group I Davis Cup tie, unheralded Chen Ti had the last laugh.
Playing an unexpected foe who defeated him last year in five sets in a Davis Cup tie in Almaty, Chen returned the favor yesterday, defeating world No. 180 Yuri Schukin 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 to give Taiwan an unassailable 3-1 lead in a 4-1 victory over the visitors.
Chen won the deciding point in a 3-2 win over Pakistan in February 2006, but he had never played such an impressive match under pressure against such a high-ranked opponent.
The victory was a nice birthday present to Wang Yeu-tzuoo, who turned 24 yesterday.
Wang, trying to relaunch his career this weekend after sitting out most of last year, was spared the pressure of a best-of-five set match and defeated world No. 145 Mikhail Kukushkin 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to complete Taiwan’s 4-1 triumph.
Taiwan needs to win two more ties if it hopes to reach the World Group playoffs, the gateway to the Davis Cup’s top tier, for the first time in history.
It will host India from March 6 to March 8, and a win would pit it against the winner of either Australia or Thailand.
Taiwan entered yesterday needing only to win one of the day’s two reverse singles.
Chen was supposed to play world No. 119 Andrey Golubev in yesterday’s opener, but Kazakhstan went with Schukin instead of Golubev, who was wildly erratic in a straight set loss to Wang on Friday.
For three sets, it appeared to be a good move, as the 29-year-old Schukin’s consistency, angled shots from the baseline and accurate passing shots kept Chen off balance.
Chen seemed to pick up momentum after breaking Schukin at love to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth set, but gave it back three games later when he was broken serving for the set.
Two games later, down 5-6 and serving to stay in the match, Chen faced his biggest test.
An ace that would have put him up 40-30 was overturned by the chair umpire after Schukin complained to the line umpire.
The 25-year-old Taiwanese, who completely lost his cool in a similar situation in the fifth set of his loss to Kukushkin on Friday, this time accepted the call, and prompted by a roar of encouragement from the crowd, defiantly pounded two service winners to clinch the game.
Helped by two unforced errors by Schukin, Chen slammed an overhead and made two winning forays to take a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker and then sent the crowd into a frenzy with a half volley off a Schukin overhead that trickled over the net out of his stunned opponent’s reach. Two points later, he clinched the tiebreaker with a big serve. Once Chen broke a tiring Schukin in the second game of the final set, victory seemed assured, giving Chen newfound confidence that he could finally rise beyond his career best No. 255 ranking, accomplished in 2005.
■SA TENNIS OPEN
AFP, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
Jeremy Chardy shocked Spaniard David Ferrer on Saturday to set up an all-French SA Tennis Open final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
AP, VINA DEL MAR, CHILE
Fernando Gonzalez will defend his home title against 2006 champion Jose Acasuso of Argentina in the Movistar Open final.
Top-seeded Gonzalez put away qualifier Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 6-3, 6-2, while fourth-seeded Acasuso overcame second-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the semi-finals on Saturday.