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Friday, Sept. 21, 2007

Japan captain likes team's chances at home against Romania

Staff writer

OSAKA — Japan team captain Eiji Takeuchi has said that playing on home turf will give his players a huge advantage over their Romanian opponents in their Davis Cup World Group playoff tie this weekend.

Speaking at the draw Thursday at Namihaya Dome Main Arena in Osaka, Takeuchi was confident the Japanese could win their first World Group playoff tie and qualify for the World Group for the first time since 1985.

"Because it is a home tie, it gives Japan 10 times more advantage. Many things can happen at home," said Takeuchi. "Also the surface is an advantage for us as well."

The opening rubber of what is Japan and Romania's first-ever Davis Cup meeting pits the 175-cm Takao Suzuki against the 198-cm Victor Hanescu.

Takeuchi is pleased the wily Suzuki, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday, was drawn to play in the opening game at midday Friday: "Suzuki has much more experience than (Go) Soeda, so it is good he is playing first."

The second singles match Friday is between 23-year-old Soeda, No. 230 in the world, and the 33-year-old Andrei Pavel, the oldest in a Romania team appearing in its 11th playoff tie in 12 years.

On Saturday, Japan's Suzuki and Satoshi Iwabuchi are scheduled to play Romania's Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau in the doubles match. Yuichi Sugita, 19, was as expected left unpicked in the singles and doubles matches for Japan.

Suzuki's opponent on Friday, Hanescu, echoed Takeuchi's comments about Suzuki's experience and also pointed to the plus points of home advantage.

"Suzuki has big experience and played some great matches in big tournaments. It's very important to play at home for Japan. The crowd is very important, but we need to concentrate and if we play well we have a chance."

Suzuki, ranked No. 216 in the world, may well have his work cut out for him against 106th-ranked Hanescu, one of the tallest players on the professional tour, but Soeda's match against Pavel appears even more formidable.

Romanian team captain Adrian Marcu believes Pavel, ranked 88th in the world, is saving his best tennis for the Davis Cup at the moment.

"Pavel is playing much better in these tournaments than in singles tournaments, for sure," said Marcu.

Marcu also believes Hanescu is getting back to something approaching his best: "The players are looking pretty good right now. Three months ago, not so good, but in the last five or six weeks Hanescu has had some very good wins."

Pavel reserved special praise for Soeda, while admitting that nothing can be taken for granted by the Romanians.

"The Japanese team is a great team, has a great fighting spirit and they always play well at home . . . and Soeda is the future of Japanese tennis and a very good player."

"But we are favorites. We have more experience as we have played World Group matches but the Davis Cup is the Davis Cup. There are always surprises. That's why the competition is so interesting. You never know what is going to happen."

Stepanek confident

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) Roger Federer will face Radek Stepanek on Friday in the opening singles match of Switzerland's Davis Cup playoff at the Czech Republic.

"What can be better than to start again in the Davis Cup team against world No. 1?" said the 34th-ranked Stepanek. "I'm ready and will fight for the opening point."

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