Rubin Statham may have just won the best match of his Davis Cup tennis career.
The 34-year-old, playing his record 33rd tie, has clinched a 3-1 win for New Zealand over Uruguay in the World Group 1 Playoff tie in Las Vegas.
After two years beset by injuries, Statham has delivered big time for New Zealand in the Nevada desert, stunning Uruguay number one Pablo Cuevas in straight sets in the reverse singles, after Michael Venus and Artem Sitak had put New Zealand 2-1 up with victory in the doubles rubber.
Cuevas has been ranked as high as 19 in the world, has six ATP titles and has beaten Rafael Nadal on clay. And while the 36-year-old is in the twilight of his career, he's still ranked 106 and was a heavy favourite to beat the veteran Kiwi.
But in chilly, windy conditions Statham had other ideas and fought back from a break down in the first set to win 7-6 (3) 6-2 in an hour and 43 minutes.
Statham is best known for his win over then world number 23 Hyeon Chung from South Korea at the ASB Classic in 2019. That was the last Tour match he would play for close to two years. He had major surgery in February 2019 and returned to tour play after last September's Davis Cup tie in Newport. Statham was clearly underdone on the grass against South Korea but has been fit for the past few months playing tournaments in the US, Central America and Australia.
Against Cuevas he made the most of the tricky conditions. It was about 7C on court and extremely windy. Games went with serve until the eighth game when Statham was broken, leaving Cuevas to serve for the first set. But the Uruguayan wilted and was broken straight back. The set went to a tie break and Statham went up a mini break at 4-2, lost the advantage on the next point but then won both Cuevas's service points to bring up three set points at 6-3. He duly converted to claim the opening set in an hour and one minute.
After holding serve to start the second set, Statham broke Cuevas's serve with a big return follow to the net and finished with a forehand crosscourt volley. He dug deep in the next service game from 15-40 to hold for a 3-0 lead. Cuevas kept fighting but couldn't find a way to break back and Statham completed quite possibly the best win of his Davis Cup career, given all he has been through the past two years with injuries.
The 34-year-old Kiwi has a current ranking of 776 but can use an injury protected ranking to get into tournaments for the next six months.
Cuevas may not be quite the same player who broke into the top 20 in the ATP rankings in 2016 and who has beaten Rafael Nadal on clay, but he's still ranked 106 and is a seasoned pro.
Earlier Michael Venus and Artem Sitak showed their class as doubles specialists, winning the doubles rubber 6-3 6-4 against Cuevas and Ariel Behar to put New Zealand 2-1 up.
It's a sweet victory for Kelly Evernden in his first Davis Cup tie as New Zealand captain after enjoying a stellar playing career representing his country in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
New Zealand advance to September's World Group 1 qualifiers while Uruguay drops down to World Group 2.