ASTANA – Kazakhstan is one win away from the Davis Cup quarterfinals after snagging a 2-0 lead on Friday over Switzerland, which was without the services of both 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and three-time major champ Stan Wawrinka.
Dmitry Popko, the world No. 231, upset 123rd-ranked Henri Laaksonen 6-2, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-5 to give the host Central Asian nation a 1-0 lead in that first-round World Group tie at the National Tennis Centre in Astana.
Kazakhstan’s top player, 73rd-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin, then shook off an inauspicious start to defeat 485th-ranked Swiss Adrian Bodmer 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in the second rubber.
Kukushkin found himself down a set and a break before rallying to win 18 of the last 25 games to take the indoor hard-court match in two hours and 37 minutes.
Without Federer, who is resting after winning his sixth Australian Open title last month, and Wawrinka, who is still battling a knee injury, the Swiss now have a huge mountain to climb against the Kazakhs.
Kazakhstan, which is looking to reach the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2015, will send out Timur Khabibulin and Aleksandr Nedovyesov to face the Swiss duo of Marc-Andrea Huesler and Luca Margaroli in Saturday’s doubles.
Elsewhere, defending Davis Cup champion France struggled more than expected against the Netherlands on the first day of their first-round World Group tie.
Even without its top two singles players, Lucas Pouille (neck) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (knee), France was expected to draw on its depth to brush aside a team with only one singles player ranked in the top 100.
Instead, 369th-ranked Thiemo de Bakker stunned 25th-ranked Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in Friday’s first singles match thanks above all to his strong serving.
De Bakker hit 15 aces, put 73 percent of his first serves in play and won 70 percent of his first-serve points over the course of the two-hour, 17-minute match at Halle Olympique, an indoor hard-court venue in Albertville, France.
The Dutchman also showcased an effective return game, breaking his opponent – a Davis Cup rookie – on six occasions.
After that unexpected result, France suddenly found itself in a must-win situation when 33rd-ranked Richard Gasquet took the court against the Netherlands’ Robin Haase, the world No. 42.
Gasquet managed the situation well to grab a two-set lead, but left-foot blisters began bothering him as Haase fought back to win the third set.
The sweet-swinging Frenchman dug deep, however, to scrape out a 6-4, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-5 victory in two hours and 44 minutes to level the tie.
“I have never known so many injuries in such a short time. Two days ago I had a full team. This morning my top two players were out, and we had to adapt,” French captain Yannick Noah said afterward.
In other first-round World Group action Friday, Italy and Japan are tied 1-1, as are Spain and Great Britain and Australia and Germany.
The United States has a 2-0 lead on Serbia, which is competing without 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, while Belgium leads Hungary 2-0 and Canada and Croatia are tied 1-1.
In Americas Zone Group I action Friday, Chile took a 1-0 lead over Ecuador thanks to Nicolas Jarry’s 6-2, 6-3 win over Ivan Endara on clay in Santiago, but Roberto Quiroz evened up the tie with a 6-3, 6-7 (11), 6-3 victory over Gonzalo Lama.