Russia’s tennis production line has delivered again, with the unheralded Roman Safiullin emerging to help guide them towards back-to-back ATP Cup crowns.
The world No.167 was a surprise call-up to partner world No.2 Daniil Medvedev at the Sydney teams event after world No.5 Andrej Rublev and last season’s surprise packet Aslan Karatsev (No.18) both tested positive to COVID-19.
The Davis Cup champions were tipped to struggle, but Safiullin has flourished, winning both his singles and doubles matches to secure ties against France and Australia.
It meant Medvedev’s shock loss to Ugo Umbert wasn’t terminal. Russia are now top of the group and all-but assured passage ahead of a final-round clash with Italy.
“I’m absolutely happy because, honestly, I wasn’t expecting to play the ATP Cup, only like maybe doubles,” Safiullin, who was the 2015 Australian Open boys’ champion, said after Tuesday’s 3-0 sweep of hosts Australia.
Earlier, Matteo Berrettini bounced back for Italy while Alexander Zverev kept Germany afloat in a crowded ATP Cup grouping.
World No.3 Zverev needed five match points to put American Taylor Fritz away 6-4 6-4, the victory coming after Jan-Lennard Struff claimed a nail-biting victory over American John Isner in their opening match.
In the night session, Canada’s 2-1 defeat of Great Britain meant all four teams moved to 1-1 ahead of their final match-ups.
Dan Evans’ 6-4 6-4 defeat of Denis Shapovalov was balanced out by Felix Auger-Aliassime’s 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over Cameron Norrie.
The Canadian pair then combined to oust Brit doubles specialists Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray 6-4 6-1 and keep their own semi-finals hopes alive.
Beaten in last year’s final by Russia, the highly fancied Italians’ campaign got off to a disappointing start, world No.7 Berrettini a shock straight-sets loser to Australian Alex de Minaur.
But Berrettini backed up the early singles victory by Jannik Sinner, who conquered Arthur Rinderknech 6-3 7-6 (7-3), to wrap up the victory.
Berrettini edged world No.35 Humbert 6-4 7-6 (8-6) in a confidence-boosting performance given the French ace upset Medvedev on Sunday.
Spain (2-0) face Serbia (1-1) on Wednesday, while Chile (1-1) play Norway (0-2) in the night session on Ken Rosewall Arena.
On Qudos Bank Arena, unbeaten Poland meet Argentina to decide who progresses in their group, while Greece play for pride against Georgia (both 0-2).