MANILA, Philippines – Between Ruben Gonzales, who had played for the last two days, and a well-rested Johnny Arcilla, it was a no-brainer for Philippine non-playing team captain Roland Kraut to pick the latter over the former in the crucial Davis Cup reverse singles on Sunday, April 6.
Sadly, what looked like Kraut’s masterstroke unravelled after Arcilla was forced to retire due to injury against Pakistan’s Aqeel Khan, who earned a series tying- 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 1-5 (ret). win once the Filipino was sidelined.
Pumped by his teammate’s victory, Aisam Qureshi outfoxed Patrick John Tierro 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in the deciding match, capping are remarkable come-from-behind 3-2 win by the Pakistanis over the hosts in their Asia-Oceania Davis Cup semifinals.
The hometown crowd at the Philippine Columbian Association indoor claycourt was stunned into silence as Tierro, who trailed in 15-30 and 30-40 in the climactic 10th game, hit a long forehand, giving the set, match and series to the resilient visitors.
Qureshi, who was is ranked No. 25 in world doubles, then lay flat on his back while raising both fists in relief and joy after the Pakistanis pulled off the historic comeback despite losing the first two singles matches last Friday.
They had finally broken the jinx against the Pinoy netters, who had beaten them three times in a row in Davis Cup play, the last two at the same court.
“I saw that the Filipino (Tierro) did not like high balls in the first game so I varied my shots and rushed the net often,” said a relieved Qureshi, 34, who disclosed that heat was already getting to him inside the cauldron-like conditions of center court.
Kraut later justified his decision to select Arcilla over Gonzales “because I saw Johnny was the better player on this day. He looked fit while Ruben was complaining of his bum left knee (which was earlier dislocated) after playing for the past two days.
“I am willing to live and die with that decision.”
Pakistan thus reached the Asia-Oceania Group 2 finals against Thailand, which beat Kuwait 4-1 also yesterday in the other semis held in the Thai province of Nonthaburi.
The Group 2 champion gets promoted to Group 1.
The Philippines, on the other hand, remained in the same group of the third consecutive year.
And things looked rosy for the home squad when Arcilla seemed headed for a win in erecting a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 edge after three sets.
But pitted against a foe who competed in the same searing conditions for the past two days, it was Arcilla who cracked first when he suffered a pulled right groin muscle in the fourth set while up 2-0.
Despite a massage by the therapist during the medical timeout, the Filipino continued to wince in pain and could hardly move the rest of the way, an opportunity that Khan exploited to the hilt.
Mixing drop and passing shots, the Pakistani secured four of the next five games in deadlocking the match at two sets all.
Arcilla valiantly soldiered on in the deciding fifth set but was obviously in no shape to continue.
Behind 1-5, he grimaced in agony after lunging for a forehand shot with the score at 15-all in the seventh game and finally retired.
With Kraut helping him, Tierro limped out of the court after nearly three hours, to the applause of the appreciative local gallery. – Rappler.com