Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori both won their 12th straight matches in the Davis Cup to leave titleholder Britain and Japan tied at 1-1 in the first round on Friday.
Playing his first match in nearly five weeks and since becoming a father, Murray displayed some rustiness in easily beating Taro Daniel 6-1 6-3 6-1 to successfully launch Britain’s defence of the cup on an indoor hardcourt in Birmingham.
Nishikori had it much tougher in the second singles match before finally putting away 157th-ranked Dan Evans 6-3 7-5 7-6(3).
The doubles is on Saturday and Murray has indicated he could play with his brother Jamie.
Britain beat Belgium in November for its first Davis Cup title in 79 years, and Murray scored the winning point in the final to go through the whole campaign unbeaten.
He started the victory over Daniel – ranked No.87 – by winning the first 11 points of the match. Yet Daniel, who is half-American, took advantage of Murray’s lack of recent competitive play to make a contest out of the second set, which went with serve until Murray broke in the seventh game.
Murray sealed the match with an ace, and didn’t drop serve.
“The second and third sets were tough,” Murray said. “I haven’t played for a long time. I was a little bit out of breath.”
Nishikori’s unbeaten run in the Davis Cup dates back four years and it was never seriously in doubt against Evans, whose form has improved since last year when his ranking dropped below 700 in the world.
Evans, a late injury replacement for Kyle Edmund and playing in his home town, had won their only previous meeting but it was an uphill battle from the moment Nishikori won the first set on his sixth set point.
Evans made a double-fault to drop the second set and never led in the third-set tiebreaker, in which Nishikori won the last three points.
The winner of the match will play either Kazakhstan or Serbia in July.
Kazakhstan tied with Serbia 1-1 in Belgrade
Mikhail Kukushkin beat Viktor Troicki 7-5 6-2 6-4 as Kazakhstan tied Serbia 1-1 after the first day of their Davis Cup first-round tie on Friday.
Kukuskhin, who dominated Troicki throughout the match, says his victory could pave the way for a surprise win against the 2010 champions.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic won the first point for Serbia by defeating Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-1 6-2 6-3.
Djokovic, who overcame eye infections to play then seemed bothered by a sore shoulder, faced only one break point – in the third set.
“I lost some of the momentum in the third set, but it was enough to win the match,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic are slated to play in Saturday’s doubles against Andrey Golubev and Nedovyesov.
Cilic gives Croatia 1-0 lead
One-time US Open champion Marin Cilic has given Croatia a 1-0 lead over Belgium in their first round Davis Cup tie with a 7-5 6-3 7-5 win over Kimmer Coppejans on Friday.
The 122th-ranked Coppejans offered a strong resistance in the first set but could not hold onto a 5-2 lead.
He served for the set at 5-4 in the opener, and led 4-2 in the third set but Cilic, who hit 16 aces, used his greater experience to prevail on the red clay of the Country Hall.
David Goffin takes on Borna Coric in the second singles.
Belgium reached its first final in 111 years last year, and ended as runner-up to Britain.
Croatia and Belgium have met once before, with the Croatians winning back in 2004.
Italy leads Switzerland after singles epic
Paolo Lorenzi let slip a two-set lead and was forced to save three match points before beating Marco Chiudinelli to put Italy 1-0 up Friday in its Davis Cup first-round tie against a Swiss team missing Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
Lorenzi won 7-6(14) 6-3 4-6 5-7 7-5 in a match which lasted nearly five hours and also featured the longest tiebreak in World Group history.
The Italian clawed his way back from 5-2 down in the final set and, although he wasted two match points, sealed the win when Chiudinelli hit long.
Lorenzi was ranked 92 places above Chiudinelli after a fine run of form, but the 146th-ranked Swiss had a 3-0 head-to-head record against the Italian.
Germans takes 1-0 lead over Czechs
Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Lukas Rosol 3-6 6-3 6-4 2-6 6-3 to give Germany a 1-0 lead over the Czech Republic in their Davis Cup first-round tie on Friday.
German No. 1 Kohlschreiber, ranked 30th, converted his first match point to beat the 50th-ranked Czech in two hours, 57 minutes
Tomas Berdych is aiming to level the tie against Germany’s 18-year-old Davis Cup debutant, Alexander Zverev later on.
Berdych is playing for the first time since the 2014 semifinals.
The Czech Republic is bidding to make up for its first-round loss against Australia last year – its first since 2011 – while Germany aims to improve on its 10-4 record against the visitors.
The winner faces Canada or France in July’s quarterfinals.
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