Tennis: Nishikori switch leaves Japan in hole against Colombia


TOKYO–Colombia’s Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah took ruthless advantage of Japan’s decision to rest Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda by overpowering replacements Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in their Davis Cup World Group playoff Saturday. Japan, pushing for a quick return to the top tier after being eliminated by Israel last September, made the switch a little over an hour before the start of the pivotal doubles, leaving the hosts needing to win both of Sunday’s reverse singles in Tokyo. “To be honest we were surprised Japan rested Kei Nishikori,” Colombian captain Mauricio Hadad told reporters.

“But we were prepared to play anyone. We knew if we were to have any chance of winning the tie we had to win the doubles and have been preparing for it for five or six weeks. The boys were fantastic and now we’re in a good position.” Sugita’s double fault on match point summed up Japan’s day at the venue for the 2020 Olympic tennis competition as the host pair were outgunned by Cabal and Farah, quarter-finalists at this year’s Australian Open.

Japan captain Minoru Ueda predictably faced a post-match grilling after his switch put the pressure on Soeda and world number 12 Nishikori.

“We decided last night to make the change,” said Ueda. “Nishikori and Soeda are singles players and there hasn’t been enough time to practice together so we now just have to focus on the job of winning both matches tomorrow.”

Japan Open champion Nishikori had given his team the lead on Friday with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Alejandro Falla in his first match since a shock first-round exit at the U.S. Open before Santiago Giraldo levelled the tie by winning a five-setter against Soeda. Nishikori plays Giraldo on Sunday before Soeda faces Falla in the final rubber.