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2023 Davis Cup Qualifier: McDonald, Paul lead U.S. to 2-0 advantage in Tashkent

Victoria Chiesa | February 03, 2023

The U.S. Davis Cup team came into this weekend's 2023 Qualifier against Uzbekistan as the heavy favorites on paper, and after the first day of play in Tashkent, the scoreboard read as such. With the U.S. facing an Uzbek team without a Top 300 player on its roster, two wins for for Mackenzie McDonald and Tommy Paul without the loss of a set put the visitors ahead 2-0 in the two-day tie. 


One win for the U.S. on Saturday will earn the squad a berth in the group stage of the 2023 Davis Cup Finals by Rakuten, set to be played in September following the US Open. 


In his Davis Cup debut, McDonald showed none of the injury concerns that plagued his third-round defeat at the hands of Yoshihito Nishioka at the Australian Open—after he beat No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal in the previous round. He was a 6-4, 6-1 winner over 21-year-old Sergey Fomin, ranked No. 366, to give the U.S. a perfect start.

"I'm pretty happy with how I played today," McDonald said. "I took care of business. I was a little unsure of how the first Davis Cup match would go ... because I haven't really been there before, but everything went pretty smooth. I played my game and thought the level was fairly high; he played some good points, but I just dogged out games when I needed to, served well when I needed to, and got the win."


One week after falling to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open, newly-minted Top 20 player Paul put a bow on Day 1 with a 6-1, 7-6(6) win over world No. 480 Khumoyun Sultanov—only after coming from 4-0 down in the second set. After losing the first set in under a half hour, Sultanov went toe-to-toe with Paul in a second set that lasted 70 minutes. With powerful, flat hitting and a lethal cross-court forehand, he broke Paul twice, and saved break points at 2-0, to lead 4-0.

Paul quickly regrouped, though, and won 16 of the 23 points played in the next four games to level the set. Neither side budged until the set's late stages, and Paul found himself down 6-4 in the tiebreak after his Uzbek foe won three points in a row. He erased the two set points thanks to a big serve and a dipping passing shot that Sultanov couldn't handle on his backhand volley, and ultimately, won the last four points of the match. 


Paul improved his career record in Davis Cup singles matches to 6-1, and his win was somewhat of a full-circle moment. His first-ever Davis Cup victory came in a dead rubber against Uzbekistan over the Uzbeks' playing captain for this tie, Denis Istomin, in 2020. 


"The first set, [I felt] pretty mellow. I felt pretty comfortable," Paul said. "The conditions are a little different to get used to, but I was happy with how I came out. In the second set, he picked up his level a ton, and I felt like I wasn't prepared for it. 


"I think the team helped me out, and the energy I brought in the second set to come back there was a lot better. Just pumping myself up, and looking a little bit more up for the challenge. I felt if I just stayed there every point and bring more energy, I could get myself back into the second set." 


The U.S.'s Top 10-doubles pair of Austin Krajicek and Rajeev Ram will have the opportunity to clinch victory for the U.S. Saturday when they face Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev in the day's first rubber. The reverse singles is scheduled to follow, with Paul facing Fomin and McDonald facing Sultanov. Nominations are subject to change. 


"Mackie played really well. Number one, he was healthy and held up pretty well," interim U.S. captain David Nainkin said. "It was a tough battle out there. The court surface is fast and I thought he played really well, served really well, and got the win. 


"Tommy played a great first set, pretty much was one-way traffic, and then Sultanov came out and played really well. ... Tommy dug in with a great mental effort to break back, and then it was a dogfight. It was a really good effort to win that second set. 


"I'm looking forward to the doubles. Raj and Austin are good friends. They've played together before and they're familiar with each other. We always look forward to them as a combination. They're both Top 10 in the world and it'll be great to see them try to clinch the win."

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