By Skip Bandele
Former Portuguese tennis No1 Rui Machado (pictured) showed that his latest efforts to regain form on the Polish Challenger circuit were not in vain as he turned into his country’s match winner during last weekend’s vital Davis Cup promotion play-off tie in Moldova.
The 30-year-old from Faro, who has seen his best ever No59 ranking in the world two years ago slip to a lowly 300 following repeated injury-related breaks, initially watched from the bench as his colleagues battled through the opening rubbers in an extremely hostile environment – very partisan crowds coupled with questionable umpiring decisions have subsequently led non-playing captain Pedro Cordeiro and the Portuguese Tennis Federation to complain in the strongest terms to the world team cup’s organisers.
The battle for the right to compete in the Euro-Africa Zone Group 1 (one tier below the top World Group) next year commenced on Friday with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win for the home side’s Radu Albot over Gastão Elias. US Open hero and top-ranked Portuguese João Sousa then restored parity with a hard-fought 6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Maxim Dubarenco before partnering Elias to a straight sets doubles success on Saturday. Thus enjoying a 2-1 lead and needing only one more win going into Sunday’s reverse singles, Portugal were confident of gaining the coveted promotion place. However, the previously mentioned hostility from the stands combined with bad line calls contributed to an epic 4 hour and 44 minute defeat for Sousa, who was eventually beaten 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 11-9 by Albot.
With the tie level at 2-2 Cordeiro decided to rely upon the experienced Machado for the decisive rubber against Dubarenco and the Algarvean did not disappoint, coming through 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 to settle matters.
“I called up Rui rather than Gastão because of his vast experience,” Cordeiro said afterwards. “Rui played a perfect match, he was very focused and handed victory to Portugal.”
Elsewhere, Andy Murray helped Britain regain its World Group status while Serbia and the Czeck Republic won their respective semi-finals to take each other on for the Davis Cup itself later this year.