The Asia Oceania Group 1 Davis Cup relegation tie between New Zealand and South Korea is evenly poised after the opening singles clashes in Gimcheon.
Kiwi tennis number one Rubin Statham put New Zealand 1-0 up with a 7-6 (10) 6-2 win over Korean number two Hong Seong-Chan, but Korean number one Duckhee Lee then levelled the tie at 1-1 with a 7-5 6-7(7) 6-2 win over Michael Venus in a two hour battle.
Statham had previously played two five set encounters against Hong in the Davis Cup, and knew he would be a difficult opponent. The first set proved that point, lasting over an hour as the Kiwi had to save several set points in the tiebreak. In truth, Statham was the better player throughout, though he got a little lucky when Hong missed a relatively easy smash on set point.
The veteran Kiwi was clearly buoyed by taking a tight opening set and jumped to an early lead with two breaks of serve in the second. Statham built pressure by serving well and only faced one break point in the entire match, eventually closing out a comfortable win.
Venus, who was playing his first singles match since February's tie in China, put in a courageous effort against the talented 20-year-old Lee. Venus started superbly with an early break of serve and then held comfortably until serving for the first set at 5-4, but Lee managed to raise his game at a crucial time and broke Venus' serve twice to take the opening set 7-5.
The Korean was relentless in building pressure on Venus' return games and his class and movement shone through in the crunch moments towards the end of the set.
To Venus' credit he hung in throughout the second set and upped his level on serve with eight aces as the set went into a tiebreak. Venus raced to a 5-2 lead and then had a set point on Lee's serve at 6-5. Lee then had a match point on Venus's serve at 7-6 but the Kiwi kept his composure and converted on his second set point to take the tiebreak 9-7 and force a deciding third set.
The decider went to serve until the fifth game, when after a long battle Lee got the vital break. He broke Venus again in his next service game and then served out the match to level the tie, leaving it delicately poised heading into the doubles and reverse singles matches tomorrow afternoon.
The doubles rubber between the experienced ATP pros Artem Sitak and Marcus Daniell against Yong Kyu Lim and Jea Moon Lee is crucial for New Zealand's chances, with Daniell and Sitak out to make amends after suffering a surprise defeat to a pair of relatively unknown Chinese players in February.
With Sitak having risen to a career high 32 in the ATP doubles rankings this week and Daniell a consistent performer, New Zealand will start as strong favourites to take a 2-1 lead. Then, it'll be onto the reverse singles where Statham will have his work cut out to clinch the tie against Lee, with Venus meeting Hong in the final rubber if needed.
Play will start at 2pm.