Paes’ 30-year Davis Cup dream ends as Ecuador, Italy enjoy empty feeling

PARIS (AFP) – India’s Leander Paes went down fighting as his dream of crowning his 30-year Davis Cup career with a place at the finals ended while Ecuador and Italy reached the November showpiece, triumphing in empty arenas locked down because of the coronavirus crisis.

Paes, 46, has played for India in every Davis Cup season bar one since his debut in 1990 but went to the qualifier tie in Zagreb against two-time champions Croatia having already announced that 2020 would be his last year on tour.

With India trailing 2-0 overnight, Paes rolled back the years, linking up with 40-year-old Rohan Bopanna to defeat Mate Pavic and Franko Skugor 6-3, 6-7 (9/11), 7-5 to keep their country’s faint hopes of making the finals alive.

However, former US Open champion Marin Cilic then ruthlessly crushed that ambition with a quickfire 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Sumit Nagal.

“This was going to be my last match but the captain (Rohit Rajpal) said something to me after the match,” Paes told daviscup.com, hinting that he could still play in the September play-offs.

“I will leave it to the captain because whoever plays, the best thing needs to be done and the best decision needs to be made.”

It was a sweet Davis Cup farewell for United States (US) doubles duo Bob and Mike Bryan in Hawaii.

The twin brothers, playing what they said would be their last Davis Cup tie, defeated Sanjar Fayziev and Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-4 in just 67 minutes to give the United States an unassailable 3-0 lead over Uzbekistan.

Reilly Opelka had beaten Istomin 6-2, 7-5 and Taylor Fritz beat Fayziev 6-1, 6-2 last Friday to put 32-time winners US on the road to victory.

US captain Mardy Fish, aiming to rekindle US fortunes in a competition they last won 13 years ago, asked the 41-year-old Bryans to return for the first time since they played in a US quarter-final loss to Croatia in 2016.

The Bryans agreed, but said they won’t be on hand when the 12 qualifiers join champions Spain, Canada, Britain, Russia, France and Serbia in November’s finals in Madrid.

Although they plan to hang up their racquets for good after the US Open in September, Bob Bryan said they were pleased to have a chance to end a Davis Cup career that began in 2003 on a high note.

“We’ve played some of the most important matches of our lives (in Davis Cup),” he told daviscup.com. “These are the matches we’ll remember. Today was a great way to end this part of our career.”

John Millman was Australia’s star in Adelaide, wearing down Thiago Monteiro 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/3) to give the 28-time champions victory over Brazil.

Ecuador swept past Japan in Miki in a tie played behind closed doors due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The hosts were without injury-hit Kei Nishikori and Yoshihito Nishioka, who decided not to join his team to avoid a possible virus quarantine on his return to the US.

Gonzalo Escobar and Diego Hidalgo outplayed Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchiyama 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to give Ecuador, without a singles player in the world top 150, a shock victory.

“The situation with no fans helped us,” Hidalgo told daviscup.com. “I think that evened up the tie.”

Uchiyama said it was hard to concentrate while playing in a nearly empty arena, “but I don’t want to use it as an excuse”.

A limited number of journalists and backroom staff were permitted to enter the arena once they had their body temperature checked.

Italy shrugged off the absence of fans in Cagliari to defeat South Korea with Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli easily beating Nam Ji-sung and Song Min-kyu 6-3, 6-1 in the doubles to seal their place in the Madrid finals.

Italian tennis federation match director Sergio Palmieri suggested that the often combustible Fognini was better suited to playing in an empty stadium.

“Fabio was very calm, very collected. We joked that maybe he should play behind closed doors all the time,” said Palmieri.