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Monday, Sep. 17, 2012

News photo
All to play for: Japan's Kei Nishikori plays a shot against Israel's Dudi Sela during their Davis Cup World Group Playoff at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday. Nishikori won the match in five sets, but Amir Weintraub beat Go Soeda in the decisive rubber to give Israel a 3-2 victory. AFP-JIJI

Israel edges Japan in epic Davis Cup World Group Playoff


Staff writer

A four-set victory by Israel No. 2 Amir Weintraub in the decisive rubber lifted his nation to a 3-2 victory over Japan in their Davis Cup World Group Playoff at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday.

Weintraub defeated Japan No. 2 Go Soeda 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-3 in reverse singles to send his team into the World Group in 2013.

The loss will relegate Japan, which had returned to the World Group this year after a 27-year absence, to the Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 next year.

Weintraub, ranked 223rd, came up big for his country in the tie, as he also beat Tatsuma Ito in straight sets on Friday.

Soeda, 53rd in the rankings, had beaten Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela in four sets on Friday.

Weintraub began cramping in his legs in the third set and appeared to be in trouble, but in the first game of the fourth set it began raining and play was stopped to close the roof.

When play restarted Weintraub looked rejuvenated and saved seven break points in the delayed first game, before finishing off Soeda behind a strong serve in 3 hours, 23 minutes.

Weintraub came out on top despite having 75 unforced errors to Soeda's 52.

Israel captain Eyal Ran put the result into perspective.

"This was an amazing tie. Everybody fought so hard," said Ran. "All the players on the court today were heroes. The Japanese did everything they could.

"We are very happy with this victory because it puts up back in the World Group where I think we deserve to be."

"I appreciate that my players give it their very best until the end," said Japan captain Toshiro Sakai. "We are very sorry we lost."

Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori outlasted Sela in a five-set marathon (6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5) in the opening reverse singles match earlier Sunday.

That battle lasted 4 hours, 31 minutes and featured some incredible shot-making by both players.

Nishikori prevailed by sheer force of will, as he looked completely spent in the third set, only to come back and take the final two sets.

The Japanese had 102 unforced errors to his opponent's 73, but still managed to come out on top. He slugged away from the baseline and ripped several forehand winners on the way to victory.

"It was a tough match. I was cramping in the second and third sets and thought I would not be able to win," said Nishikori.

Nishikori said he felt extra responsibility after not being able to play in Friday's opening singles due to a shoulder injury. He was declared fit following a medical examination on Sunday morning.

"I couldn't let everybody down today because I had already let them down on Friday," he said. "I to find a way to win."

The crafty veteran Sela, ranked 98th, was especially proficient with dropshots and backhand volleys throughout. He even threw in a few lobs late in the contest.

"He played better in the big moments and deserved to win," stated Sela after the tough loss.

Behind a strong forehand and steady serve, Nishikori broke Sela in the fourth and sixth games and claimed the first set 6-3 in 37 minutes.

Nishikori, ranked 16th in the world, converted 100 percent (9 for 9) of his second serves in the set.

Sela fought back, breaking Nishikori in the fourth and six games, to take the second set 6-3.

Nishikori committed 18 unforced errors in the set.

The third set was on serve until the ninth game, when Sela broke to go up 5-3. With the game on the fourth deuce, Sela played a circus shot between his legs to gain break point following a drop shot from Nishikori.

The 22-year-old Nishikori appeared fatigued in the third set, while the veteran Sela, 27, looked refreshed.

"We played some long rallies and he appeared to be cramping in his legs," said Sela. "After I won that set I thought was going to win the match.

Sela had a break point in the third game of the fourth set, but could not capitalize and Nishikori held to move ahead 2-1.

After Sela won his service game to make it 2-2, Nishikori struggled mightily not to be broken in a lengthy fifth game.

Nishikori finally prevailed when Sela came to the net but couldn't handle a forehand and it was 3-2.

After quickly taking the seventh game on serve, Nishikori squandered a golden opportunity in the eighth, when he had three breaks points could not take advantage.

Sela ran off five straight points to make it 4-4.

Nishikori then held and grabbed the set 6-4 by breaking Sela. The Israeli double-faulted on set point.

The Shimane native was able to prevail despite five double faults in the set.

"In the fourth set there were five or six break points that I had the chance to win and didn't," said Sela.

The players exchanged breaks in the fifth set and then were on serve until the ninth, when Sela earned a break point but could not convert. Nishikori held to lead 5-4.

They stayed on serve until the 12th game, when with Nishikori leading 6-5, he broke Sela to clinch the match.

Nishikori said he was overcome by his feeings after the triumph.

"I was very emotional on the court, which is very unusual for me. You are part of a team in Davis Cup, so it really means something."



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