Unheralded Russian Roman Safiullin, ranked 167th in the world, led Russia to a 2-1 victory over France at Ken Roswell Arena on day two of the ATP Cup.
Safiullin teamed with Daniil Medvedev to defeat the experienced French pairing of Fabrice Martin and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-4, 6-4 in the deciding rubber.
Earlier in the day, Safiullin got Russia off to the perfect start with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 comeback victory over World No. 57 Arthur Rinderknech.
Despite losing the first set, Safiullin’s determination paid off when he broke in the twelfth game of the second set to level the match at one set all.
After saving three breakpoints in the first game of the deciding set, the Russian immediately broke to take a 2-0 lead and from there he never looked back, serving out his first Top 100 win since 2018.
"It feels great to win the first match, to get the point for the team,” Safiullin said post-match.
“The second set was really tight, and I tried to make as many balls as I could and put pressure on him.”
Following on from the opening tie, Frenchman Ugo Humbert produced a career-best performance to defeat Medvedev in an epic three-set battle 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(2) to level up the tie.
Humbert was thrilled with his performance, especially after he managed to fight back from 0-3 in the second set.
"It was a very tough match. I am very happy," Humbert said in his on-court interview.
"I had some opportunities in the first set and I just tried to stay relaxed and focused on what I had to do. It was a great match."
Despite Humbert’s heroics, the day belonged to Safiullin who was only playing after fellow Russian Andrey Rublev’s withdrawal.
In the day’s other tie, the USA defeated Canada 3-0 to get their ATP Cup campaign off to the perfect start at Qudos Bank Arena.
Canada suffered a major blow before a ball was even hit with World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov withdrawing moments before his scheduled match. The Canadian No. 2 cited fatigue from his time in isolation as the reason for his withdrawal.
Shapovalov’s replacement, Branden Schnur, ranked 238 in the world was no match for the big-serving John Isner despite his best efforts. The American cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win in just over an hour.
Isner won 80% of points on his first serve to go with 10 aces. Post-match, Isner was very pleased with his first hit out of the new season.
“I surprised myself with how well I played out here,” in his on-court interview.
“You always work hard in the off-season, but you never really know what could happen in the first match of the year.”
After missing some tennis in 2021, Isner couldn’t hide his pride in still being able to play at 35 years of age.
“I never thought I could make money playing tennis when I came out of college. I get to play this sport for a living and I’m incredibly lucky and incredibly blessed,” Isner said.
“I get to come down to this amazing country for the 15th time.”
The No. 1 singles tie was a much tighter tussle with American young gun Taylor Fritz edging out fellow rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4.
Auger-Aliassime came back from 2-6 down in the first set tiebreak to take out a see-sawing opening set.
Fritz put the disappointment of the first set behind him and only needed just the one break in each set to earn a hard-fought three-set win.
Fritz was pleased with his attitude and the style of tennis he was able to play.
"I've been working on coming forward for a while now, but the biggest change in my game over the past couple of months is my forehand has become a much bigger weapon," Fritz said.
"It has created a lot more opportunities for me to get to net behind it because I've been hurting people a lot more from the back."
In the final match of the tie, Isner and Fritz sealed a comprehensive victory for the USA with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov who surprisingly appeared in the doubles after his earlier withdrawal from the opening match of the tie.