Ward makes the crucial breakthrough for Britain in must-win Davis Cup play-off
Saturday 10 July 2010
After five successive defeats it would be prudent not to take anything for granted, but Britain ended the first day of their Davis Cup relegation play-off against Turkey yesterday with what should prove to be a decisive 2-0 lead.
Jamie Baker delivered the perfect start with a convincing 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Ergun Zorlu, after which James Ward put the home team firmly in command by beating Marsel Ilhan, the highest-ranked singles player in the tie, 6-2, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.
A hot and steamy afternoon produced conditions that must have felt more like Istanbul than Eastbourne, but it was the Britons who adapted best. Turkey's hopes of sending Leon Smith's team down into Europe/ Africa Zone Group III, alongside the minnows of Armenia and Albania, were always going to rest largely on the shoulders of Ilhan, but the world No103 was outplayed by an opponent who stands 198 places below him in the world rankings.
Ward might be tempted to dig up the Devonshire Park court at the end of the weekend and take it home with him. The 23-year-old Londoner followed up the best week of his career here at last month's Aegon International with an emphatic display of big serving and consistent hitting that forced Ilhan into a steady flow of errors. The Turkish No1 looked particularly vulnerable in the face of Ward's damaging returns of serve.
Nevertheless, the Briton had to keep his nerve after letting the third set slip from his grasp. Ward failed to serve out at 5-3, scorned two match points in the following game and lost the tie-break 7-0.
However, he broke serve twice to take a 3-0 lead at the start of the fourth set and secured victory on his third match point when Ilhan mishit a forehand.
Baker's opening victory against Zorlu, the world No866, was in stark contrast to his last appearance for the national team away to Argentina in the World Group two years ago.
On that occasion the Scot opened proceedings by playing the first rubber against David Nalbandian, then the world No 9. Zorlu, a 25-year-old student playing his first match on grass, never looked capable of denying Baker his first victory in a "live" singles rubber.
Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski will have the chance to seal victory in today's doubles, in which they are due to play Ilhan and Haluk Akkoyun, while tomorrow's reverse singles will see Baker face Ilhan before Ward meets Zorlu.
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