London: Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic claimed straight set victories to give Australia a commanding 2-0 lead over Slovakia after the opening day singles in the Davis Cup World Group playoff in Sydney on Friday.
The 15th-ranked Kyrgios shrugged off recent hip problems to whip through Andrej Martin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 while the 21st-ranked Tomic completed a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4 win over Jozef Kovalik.
Australia will stay in the premier World Group next year if they win one further match in the best-of-five rubber at Sydney’s Olympic Tennis centre.
Meanwhile, Late call-up Richard Gasquet put France on their way in their World Group semi-final against Croatia on Friday, beating rising star Borna Coric 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1.
Gasquet, 30, was drafted in after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils pulled out with knee injuries and the world number 17 made the most of the opportunity against the 19-year-old Coric on Zadar’s indoor hard courts.
In New Delhi, Feliciano Lopez claimed a four-set victory over Ramkumar Ramanathan to give Spain a 1-0 lead after the first singles in the World Group playoff.
The left-handed Lopez, who took court in place of star player Rafael Nadal, completed a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win in two hours and 25 minutes.
World number four Nadal, who was slated to open the three-day contest, pulled out at the last moment due to a stomach infection.
In need of victory against Ukraine to retain its place in the World Group next year, Japan opted to rest world No. 5 Kei Nishikori in the opening singles, and the decision paid off in Tokyo.
Taro Daniel defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-1, and Yoshihito Nishioka gave the hosts a commanding lead by topping Illya Marchenko 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.
Describing Australia’s performance after the opening day’s singles captain Lleyton Hewitt said: “A perfect start. We know it’s not over quite yet but the boys did really well today.
“They were big favourites coming into both singles but you can’t take anything for granted in Davis Cup.
“There’s a lot more pressure on as well and sometimes it’s tougher when you are a lot more fancied chance to go out there and get the job done.”
Kyrgios was expected to have little trouble with the world No. 127 Martin and cruised to victory in 1hr 40 min to take his Davis Cup singles record to 4-3.
It came just over a week after he was forced to quit his third-round US Open match against Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko with a hip injury.
But the temperamental 21-year-old star showed little inconvenience to put away Martin despite plugging up a nose bleed early in the final set.
“Everyone expects me to go out there and towel the guy but it’s never as easy as that,” Kyrgios said. “I thought he played some great tennis today.”
Tomic won a first-set tiebreaker and raced to a two sets to love lead before his game dropped off. He regrouped to take the match in three sets in just under two hours.
He improved his impressive Davis Cup singles record to 17-4.
Tomic was at the centre of a foul-mouthed controversy at the US Open last month when he became embroiled in a lewd exchange with a heckler on the way to his first-round exit to Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia.
Australia, who lost to the United States in this year’s first round, are looking to maintain their three-year stay in the World Group.
Slovakia, who have come to Australia without their two leading stars — 31-ranked Martin Klizan and 102-ranked Lukas Lacko — are up against ending a 10-year absence from the World Group.
The Slovaks, captained by Olympic gold medallist Miloslav Mecir, have lost all five of their World Group playoffs since losing to Chile in the World Group first round in 2006.