Mikhail Kukushkin sent shockwaves rippling through the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas draw, as he defeated Jan Hajek 64 67(4) 76(8) 60 to complete a 3-2 victory over Czech Republic, and put World Group debutantes Kazakhstan into the quarterfinals.
Kukushkin had shown glimpses of his all-or-nothing attitude during his three-set loss to Tomas Berdych on Friday, which, although comprehensive, demonstrated the Kazakh’s dedication to the cause. It was that energy and exuberance that handed him the first set 6-4, courtesy of just a single break.
Momentarily stunned, Hajek came back in the second set, continually pressurising the Kukushkin serve, before eventually closing out the set with a convincing 7-4 tiebreak.
The momentum firmly with the Czech No. 2, he raced into a 3-0 lead in the third set, only for Kukushkin to battle back to send the set into another tiebreak. Exchanging mini-breaks like hot potatoes, Hajek squandered a golden opportunity serving at 8-7, allowing Kukushkin to wriggle his way back in. Winning three points in a row to seal the tiebreak 10-8 the diminutive Kazakh leapt 10 feet in the air.
He didn’t look back. Taking advantage of Hajek’s increasingly laboured movement, the diminutive Kazakh soared into a 5-0 lead, putting Kazakhstan within a game’s reach of victory. One game was all he needed. For a moment it looked as though Hajek would hang on to avoid the bagel set, but Kukushkin was too insistent, and as the Czech player’s drop shot attempt hit the bottom of the net, the Kazakh No. 2 fell to the ground in disbelief.
“I was confident in my game, and today I show how I can play in this level. I and all the team, we are so happy that we won today,” said Kukushkin. “The most important thing was that I was fighting for every ball, I got so many support from our crowd, from our team, I think that helped me so much. I played my best game.”
“It was very close, I think the turning point was in the third set, I had the set point,” said Hajek. “I was fighting so much for my country, I was giving 100%. I would be happy if I get the chance next time.”
“The key for the victory for us was the first day,” said Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil. “Jan had one point to be near to victory, he didn’t make this point, after that, we won the doubles, but today, Golubev is playing unbelievable, and on the last game, first three sets was pretty close, but after that Jan is going down physically and that’s why he lost that game.”
Earlier, Andrey Golubev had kept Kazakhstan’s hopes alive as he pulled off a shock upset over Tomas Berdych, winning 75 57 64 62 in the fourth rubber.
Playing what Berdych described as “a perfect match,” the world No. 43 out-thought and out-played the world No. 7 on the Cez Arena’s hard court to register one of the best wins of his career.
Swinging and barely missing his way through the opening set, Golubev registered 20 winners to a mere five from Berdych, as the Czech No. 1 looked as though the toll of playing three days in a row was finally registering. Despite battling back from a break down to win the second set, Berdych could not compete with Golubev’s court coverage, the Kazakh putting himself in front again courtesy of a single break in the third set.
By the fourth, Golubev had wings on his feet, breaking twice to accelerate into a 5-2 lead, and serve out the win on his second match point.
“I needed just to be aggressive, to play my game to give him pressure and don’t let him play easy balls, and that was the key for my match today,” said Golubev. “I played one of my best matches in my career until now; especially I was concentrate from first until last point.”
“From my point of view and from myself I have to say that I played quite a solid game,” said Berdych. “But I couldn’t say one moment, one thing what he did wrong, he was just, perfect today. I saw him to play the match like this last year in Kuala Lumpur against Soderling, he beat him 62 62. That’s just the way of tennis. He deserves respect for the game what he did today.”
Kazakhstan advance to their first Davis Cup quarterfinal in July, where they will face Argentina at home, who defeated Romania 4-1. It will be their first Davis Cup meeting. Czech Republic will play-off in September to remain in the World Group.