BAKU: Azerbaijan’s tennis hopefuls got off to a poor start at the Islamic Solidarity Games on Friday after losing their opening matches in the men’s and women’s team events.
The Azeri men’s team went ahead against Pakistan on Centre Court at the Baku Tennis Academy after Filip Nikolic won a thrilling singles rubber against Muhammad Abid, but they eventually slipped to a 2-1 defeat in the three-match contest.
Azerbaijan’s women were comprehensively dismantled on the outside courts by an impressive Uzbekistan, who sealed a 3-0 win.
Twenty-three-year-old Nikolic broke Pakistan’s Abid in the tournament’s very first game on Centre Court before going on to take the opening set to love in this Pool B clash.
Twenty-two-year-old Abid struck back to force a tense decider, in which both players made unforced errors and dropped serve twice, but when serving for the match, Abid’s delivery malfunctioned as he allowed left-hander Nikolic, who saved two match points in game 12, a way back.
The sparse crowd were treated to a pulsating tie break with Abid seemingly regaining his composure to sail into a 5-2 lead, but Serbian-born Nikolic roared back, reeling off five straight points to seal a dramatic 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) victory with Azerbaijan taking first blood in the best-of-three contest.
But Pakistan grabbed this group match by the scruff of the neck thereafter with 37-year-old Aqeel Khan – a men’s team and men’s doubles gold medallist in the inaugural Games at Mecca 2005 – demolishing 16-year-old Rasul Gojayev in the second singles rubber, 6-1, 6-2.
And Azeri hopes quickly vanished when Khan teamed up with Abid in the doubles rubber to defeat Orkhan Manafli and Nikolic 6-3, 6-4 and seal an opening 2-1 win for Pakistan.
It kept alive their hopes of a repeat of 2005 when they secured a clean sweep of the tennis gold medals.
Elsewhere in Pool B, Jordan and Qatar are locked at 1-1 and must complete their contest on Saturday after rain stopped play on the outside courts before their final doubles rubber.
Seif Adas won 7-5, 6-4 against Mousa Shanan Zayed to put Jordan in front before Mubarek Shannan Zayid came from a set down to defeat Mousa Alkotop 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and level for the Qataris.
In Pool A, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are level at 1-1 and must also return for the doubles rubber on Saturday.
Uzbek Said-Alo Said-Karimov came from behind to beat Georgiy Pochay 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to put his country in the lead before Turkmenistan’s Yuriy Rogusskiy levelled by beating Sergey Fomin in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
It was not a good day all round for hosts Azerbaijan as their women’s team suffered a thumping defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan on court one.
Komola Umarova got the Uzbeks off the mark with a commanding 6-2, 6-0 victory in the first singles rubber against Azeri player Alina Gavrish, who was outclassed.
Sabina Sharipova followed in her team-mate’s footsteps in the second rubber as she dismissed Umayra Hashimova 6-1, 6-1 to put her country into an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best-of-three tie.
Umarova then partnered Polina Merenkova in the doubles in the third and final rubber, and the duo eased to a one-sided 6-2, 6-0 victory over the Azeri pair, Hashimova and Zuleykha Safarova, to seal a 3-0 win in the first of their four round-robin group matches.
Turkmenistan also enjoyed a stroll in the park in the other women’s match as they beat Pakistan 3-0.
Jahan Bayramova got them on their way on court three, dropping just four games in a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Sara Mansoor.
Anastasiya Prenko then sealed victory for Turkmenistan as she saw off Ushna Suhail 6-1, 7-6 (7/2) in the second singles rubber, before Bayramova joined forces with Guljan Muhammetgulyyeva to oust Sarah Mahboob Khan and Meheq Khokhar in the doubles in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) – a match completed on Centre Court because of the bad weather.