China masterminded a stunning Davis Cup tennis comeback in New Plymouth today to deny New Zealand promotion to group one of the competition’s Asia-Oceania region.
Facing defeat after New Zealand won the opening day singles clashes on Friday, China reeled off three straight victories — including both reverse singles today — to emerge from a fluctuating tie with an unlikely 3-2 victory.
Peng Sun completed China’s response by prevailing in a five-set thriller with GD Jones — a replacement for injured New Zealand No 2 Rubin Statham.
In a stirring climax to the tie, Sun forged to a 5-1 lead in the decisive set then Jones, who needed two medical breaks after suffering cramp, dragged himself off the rebound ace surface to claim the next two games before the right hander served out the match.
China had been expected to claw back in yesterday’s doubles encounter but it was Dan King-Turner’s straight sets loss to Chinese No 1 Yan Bai that proved the point of difference.
King-Turner, the New Zealand No 1, could not reproduce his Friday form and was plagued throughout by a shaky serve before bowing out 6-4 6-3 6-3.
“We always knew their doubles was going to be strong, they’re an established combination (Shao Xuan Zeng/Xin Yuan Yu) and they showed that,” New Zealand’s non-playing captain James Greenhalgh told NZPA.
“We needed that one more victory and unfortunately Dan didn’t play as well as he did on the first day, then it came down to a cliffhanger.”
Greenhalgh lamented the broken thumb that ruled out Statham, who knocked off Yan on day one.
“It hurt our team when our No 2 player couldn’t play on the last day.”
Statham fell on his thumb when three points from victory, ripping the tendon off a bone. He will see a specialist this week.
Jones, who had only expected to play the doubles, was left to ensure New Zealand’s return to the top flight for the first time since 2004.
He dropped the opening set 6-3 but drew level when claiming a second set tie breaker.
However, Sun took the third 7-5 before the New Zealander regrouped again to take the fourth 6-4 despite suffering cramps and force a decider.
“It was a great match, good Davis Cup tennis, and unfortunately GD couldn’t quite get over the line,” said Greenhalgh.
China’s fight back enables them to compete alongside the likes of Australia next year while New Zealand are consigned to another year in the second-tier and a tie against an unknown opponent in February.
“It was our goal this year and to get so close and not achieve it is disappointing,” Greenhalgh said.
“All we can do is look forward to next year.”
New Zealand team manager Alistair Hunt added: “Gutted would be the word to describe how we’re feeling. When you’re two-nil up, you’ve got the finishing line in the distance, but we didn’t come through.”
It is the first time New Zealand have lost to China in six Davis Cup ties stretching back to 1937.