Tennis: Less is best, says Uzbek ace

By Kelly Exelby

Denis Istomin will be happy to stay out of Uzbekistan's Davis Cup record books when their best-of-five clash against New Zealand starts tomorrow in Tauranga.

Istomin, ranked 58 in the world (he went down a spot overnight on Tuesday) compared to New Zealand's best Michael Venus, who is 360, features in a couple of the Uzbekis' longest-ever performances in Davis Cup but will be content to do the business and get out of town in good shape against a Kiwi side tipped to struggle indoors at the city's new $42 million TECT Arena.

Three years ago in the Asia Oceania Group I clash with Japan on clay in Uzbekistan, Istomin and No2 Farrukh Dustov played their county's longest-ever rubber, a 3h 45m doubles marathon against Satoshi Iwabushi and Takao Suzuki that Japan won 6-7 6-3 7-6 4-6 6-3 to grab an unassailable 3-0 lead in the third round tie.

Twelve months earlier in New Delhi, Istomin's 4-6 4-6 6-4 7-6 8-6 win over India's Rohan Bopanna set new Davis Cup records for his country's longest final set (14 games) and most games in a rubber (57).

Less is best according to Istomin, with Uzbekistan hoping to wrap up the tie quickly by winning both tomorrow's singles rubbers and Saturday afternoon's doubles indoors on the relocatable Rebound Ace surface, just like they did on clay 12 months ago, with Uzbekistan winning 3-2, both of New Zealand's wins dead rubbers.

The 25-year-old, who boasts 18 wins from 23 Davis Cup singles, vividly remembers the marathon five-setter against Bopanna, which levelled the tie at 2-2 before Dustov was dusted in four sets by Prakash Amritraj in the decider.

"It was a funny game. I was losing two sets and in the third was a break down, with no chances to break him. He was serving [4-2 up in the third], I broke for the first time, the game changed a lot and I broke him again and then won two tough ones in the fourth and fifth.

"It wasn't physical tired[ness], because on grass it was mainly serve and volley, but I was emotionally tired."

Istomin, who has a career-high ranking of 39 and reached one ATP final two years ago, presents a significant obstacle to New Zealand's progress to the next round against top seeds India in April, with the 1.88m-tall baseliner a rabbit around the around the court with a ripping backhand.

Boasting career earnings of US$1.5 million ($1.78 million), Istomin has enjoyed a solid start to 2012, beating 23-ranked Florian Mayer and former star Tommy Haas en route to a quarterfinal loss against rising star Bernard Tomic in Brisbane.

He played qualifying at the Sydney International, winning his three matches to make the main draw, where he had an impressive run to the semifinals, sweeping past Pablo Andujar, Ryan Sweeting and 18-ranked Richard Gasquet before being stopped by eventual champion Jarkko Nieminen.

He even had his chances at the Australian Open, taking a set off world No6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round before succumbing 4-6 6-3 2-6 5-7.

"That was a tough draw and good experience for future ... I need to play aggressive against these kinds of guys, making more volleys because there's too much baseline. Every point needs to be concentration because the best guys don't give points as presents like other guys."

Istomin was born in Russia but his family moved to Tashkent in Uzbekistan when he was a baby. . He now splits his time between Moscow and Tashkent.

Istomin expects New Zealand to be a tougher foe than last February, with the indoor court roughened to their specifications and a partisan home crowd.

"At our place we won easy but this time is not going to be easy. Their [strategy] will be to target Dustov ... in the ATP you play for yourself and can lose but with Davis Cup you cannot lose. That makes big pressure."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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