Thiem overcomes raucous Irish crowd as Austria takes lead

IT was an atmosphere that Grand Slam champion Dominic Thiem was seldom used to, as he and his Austrian team faced off against surprise packets Ireland in Limerick for the Davis Cup World Group Qualifiers.

The former world number three faced off against Irish world number 935 Michael Agwi in a thrilling contest, bouncing back from three first set points down to win and help Austria set up a 2-0 lead on day one of the tie.

Agwi was largely unknown to the ATP Tour, having only played one career match and made around $7000 USD across his career. But after standing up against Thiem early, the Irish tall showed he is far better than his ranking.

Boasting a powerful serve and a big forehand, Agwi made mistakes, but also produced some big winners in front of a raucous crowd that was hugely patriotic towards him and his Irish side. At times the horns and sirens going off between points that would not have looked askew at a soccer match inside the gymnasium visibly frustrated Thiem as Agwi continued to remain with him.

Each time Agwi was broken, he used the crowd’s energy to break back immediately, including at 5-6 down when Thiem had the chance to serve for the first set. Instead, Agwi powered his way to 6-3 in the tiebreaker and looked set to shock the Austrian star.

But, just as it looked like the world number 935 had his highly rated opponent on the ropes, a few mistakes, coupled with some steady play from Thiem resulted in the Austrian winning the last five points of the set and taking the set 8-6. Another crucial break in the second set would prove the difference as Thiem took out the match, 7-6 6-3 in an hour and 46 minutes.

Agwi served up nine aces – including two consecutive midway through the first set – and was able to break his opponent twice – while winning 74 per cent off his first serve. Thiem marginally shaded him (75 per cent), but was far better off his second (52 to 37 per cent).

The second match was similarly tight despite the massive ranking differential with world number 40 Sebastian Ofner defeating Irishman Osgar O’Hoisin in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. O’Hoisin had also only played the one match on the ATP Tour, reaching a career-high 599th last year while sitting currently in 602nd.

Ofner needed 70 minutes to defeat O’Hoisin, winning via eight aces and a ridiculous 32 of 33 points off his first serve. The homecourt hope could not crack into the Austrian’s serve, and though he was a little better against Ofner’s second serve (44 per cent won), he failed to capitalise on two break point opportunities, while the Austrian broke twice from three chances.

In the end for all of Ireland’s brave efforts, and a loud and proud crowd, the Austrian duo had passed the test, and would be better prepared for day two which begins 11pm AEDST tonight. That will feature Austrian top four doubles combination Lucas Miedler and Alexander Erler up against a literal unranked Irish duo of Conor Gannon and David O’Hare.


Norway sweeps Latvia

Top 10 talent Casper Ruud helped lead his nation to an easy 4-0 whitewash of Latvia, as he and Viktor Durasovic both won their singles, then teamed up in the doubles to secure the win. With the tie secured, junior star Nicolai Budkova Kjaer got his first chance at Davis Cup action, and also picked up a straight sets win to send Norway to the World Group playoffs at year’s end.

Pole-axing Uzbekistan

Another nation featuring a top 10 talent was Poland, as Hubert Hurkacz stepped up to guide Poland to victory alongside fellow singles winners, Kamil Majchrzak and Maks Kasnikowski. The trio hardly broke a sweat, not dropping a set the whole tie, with Hurkacz and experienced Polish doubles player Jan Zielinski officially securing the win in the doubles, 7-6 6-4.

Turkey wins on the road against Kiwis

Despite having to travel to New Zealand, Turkey showed no fear en route to a 3-1 tie win over New Zealand. Altug Celikbilek won his reverse singles match against Kiwi Ajeet Rai 6-3 6-2 to lock in the victory. That was after Celikbilek came off a doubles win, and Turkey came back from an 0-1 deficit after top ranked Turkish singles player Cem Ilkel went down to Kiranpal Pannu in a shock 6-3 6-2 loss.

Egypt closes out Ecuador

Egypt took home the win against Ecuador with a 3-0 start securing the tie before Ecuador hit back with a fourth match dead-rubber win. On the Cairo clay, the Egyptians, led by world number 358 Mohamed Safwat, did not have it all their own way. Safwat had to sit through five sets, four of which were tiebreakers to come back and win his singles 4-6 7-6 7-6 then close out the tie with a 7-6 7-6 doubles victory.

Japan survives Lebanon scare

Despite an almighty scare from Lebanon, Japan will head back to the World Group playoffs at the end of the year after defeating its opponent 3-1 on the road. Also played on the Cairo clay, Benjamin Hassan took a hue scalp in the form of world number 113, Yosuke Watanuki. Luckily for the Japanese they steadied, with Yoshihito Nishioka toppling Hassan, 1-6 7-6 6-4 after a shaky start.

Colombia completes stirring comeback

Top seeds Colombia looked down and out after day out, suffering two singles losses to Luxembourg, but found its feet on day two to win all three matches and survive the tie, 3-2. Chris Rodesch for the underdogs off to the perfect start by upsetting top ranked Colombian, Nicolas Mejia 7-6 6-3, then Alex Knaff held out against Adria Soriano Barrera in three sets, 6-4 2-6 6-4. The Colombians stayed in the tie with a win in the doubles, before Mejia knocked off Knaff in straight sets, and Soriano Barrera got a win back against Rodesch to secure the tie.

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