Davis Cup: NZ Fall Short on Day 1

Saturday, 04 February 2023


Tenacious efforts from both KP Pannu and Ajeet Rai despite falling short against their higher ranked Bulgarian opposition on a scorching hot first day of their World Group 1 Play-off Davis Cup tie at Wilding Park in Christchurch. 

Called up at late notice with Rubin Statham withdrawing due to an achilles injury, Wellington’s Pannu had the sold out Canterbury crowd on its feet saving three set points before going on to claim the first set 7-5 over Dimitar Kuzmanov. It’s the first time Pannu – ranked 576 in the world – has won a set at Davis Cup level. 

Kuzmanov – ranked 384 places higher than Pannu – showed his decade of Davis Cup experience though rallying back to take the second set 6-3 before taking the third and deciding set 6-2. 

The grueling match that went for a tick over three hours followed a close tussle between New Zealand’s number one Ajeet Rai and Bulgaria’s Alexander Lazarov. 

Both players broke each other’s serve in the first set which was decided by a tiebreak. Lazarov claimed it 7-6 (1) and rode the momentum to claim the second 6-1.  

It leaves Bulgaria with a 2-0 advantage heading into Sunday’s matches. 

Team captain Kelly Evernden’s immensely proud of his young players despite the results.

“These guys have come such a long way from where they were in September when we played Finland. They’re battling and they’re fighting and trying things. They’re hitting the ball better, running better. It’s exciting. 

“They didn’t win, they didn’t get the payoff for what they put into it because ultimately they’re playing really good world class players,” Evernden said. 

Experienced New Zealand duo Michael Venus and Artem Sitak will combine in the lone doubles match of the tie against Alexander Donski and Petr Nesterov from 11am tomorrow. 

Evernden’s confident Venus and Sitak can keep the tie alive. 

“Mike and Artem have been working really hard. They’ve got some tough competition from the young guys. They’re ready to go, I think we’ll get that one that’s my prediction.” 

The winner of the tie will play in World Group 1 in September while the loser heads to World Group 2. 

Ticket allocation for Sunday’s matches is exhausted. Fans can follow the action live on Sky Sport Channel 4. 

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