Singles slip adds to HK tension

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong were crestfallen leaving the Chinese Recreation Club last night. Instead of taking a 2-0 lead, they had to settle for a 1-1 score-line after sharing the opening singles with Lebanon in the relegation play-off tie in Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone group two.

It was heartbreak for Hong Kong, as their number two, Michael Lai Xaio-peng, had pushed Lebanon's number one Karim Alayly to a fifth set decider in the second singles before agonisingly losing it 9-7. And this after coming back from losing the first two sets.

'It hurts. I'm really disappointed that we are not 2-0 up. He served superbly, but I played well and it is a pity we couldn't grab the second singles too,' said Lai after his marathon match, which lasted just under four hours, ended in a 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 9-7 defeat.

Lai had a golden opportunity to wrap up the match in the 10th game of the deciding set when he held a match-point on Alayly's serve at 30-40. But the big-serving Lebanese, the only player in the tie with an ATP ranking, kept his nerve to save the break point.

With no tie-break in the fifth set, the match dragged on as both players slugged it out before a small but partisan crowd at the Causeway Bay club before Lai blinked first, conceding a break point in the 16th game which Alayly duly converted with a thundering serve followed by a delicate backhand volley which Lai had no answer to.

'It was pretty close, and a shame that we are not up 2-0. His big serve saved Alayly and has kept Lebanon in the tie,' said Hong Kong's non-playing captain, Derek Ling Hay-ming.

Hong Kong had been given the perfect start when number one Yu Hiu-tung defeated Jicham Zaatini in another close encounter where the first three sets went to tie-breaks. Yu won 7-6, (7-2), 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (1-7), 6-0.

Both captains said the winner of today's doubles will hold the upper hand going into tomorrow's reverse singles.

'This will be the turning point of this tie,' said Lebanon captain Hussein Badreddine, relieved that Alayly had survived being penalised seven times for foot-faulting. 'I'm also happy that now the third day's play will have some meaning.'

Ling said: 'I have always maintained the doubles is the most important match in a tie. And once again this is the case. If we win it, we will have the edge going into Sunday.'

Henry So Hoh-kong and Adrian Montesinos have been nominated by Ling to figure for Hong Kong in the doubles. But he has the option to make a last-minute change today.

Ling was keeping his cards close to his chest last night, and so was his counterpart. But it is most likely Lebanon will go for broke and play Alayly today. He is their ace.