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Mikhail Kukushkin saved four match points, including two in the decisive tiebreaker, to give Kazakhstan a 1-0 lead over Serbia in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup Finals on Wednesday and leave Novak Djokovic needing a victory to keep his country's chances alive.
Kukushkin defeated Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (11).
The top-ranked Djokovic will face No. 36 Alexander Bublik in the other singles match later Wednesday at the Madrid Arena.
Djokovic impressed in his first two matches in the group stage and will try to extend his singles winning streak in the competition to 17 matches. Bublik also won both of his matches in the group stage.
The 183rd-ranked Kukushkin was a break up in the second set but Kecmanovic came back by winning four straight games to even the match after converting his fifth set point.
Kecmanovic got off to a fast start in the decisive set but couldn't capitalize on his five break opportunities to take a 4-0 lead. He then squandered two match points at 5-3 before being pushed into the tiebreaker. The Serbian needed medical attention at 5-4 but was able to continue.
Kukushkin saved another pair of match points in the tiebreaker before converting his fifth opportunity to clinch the win.
“This is why we love the Davis Cup,” Kukushkin said. “I'm just honored to play for my country and get the with for Kazakhstan. It was important for us. I'm super excited.”
Serbia made it to the last eight this year as one of the top two second-place finishers from the six groups. It is trying to reach its fifth semifinal, and first since 2017, when it lost to France.
Serbia lost to Russia in the quarterfinals of the first edition of the revamped Davis Cup Finals in 2019. Its only title came in 2010 in a final against France, and it was runner-up to the Czech Republic in 2013.
Kazakhstan is trying to make its first semifinal appearance after reaching the last eight six times — most recently in 2018 when it lost to Croatia. It won its group this year against Sweden and Canada, the runner-up in 2019.
Viktor Troicki is making his debut as Serbia's captain two years after his last appearance as a player.
It was a mostly packed Madrid Arena for the quarterfinal even though host Spain didn't make it past the group stage. The Spanish capital was the sole host of the revamped team event in 2019, but this time Innsbruck in Austria and Turin in Italy also held matches. Madrid will host both semifinals and the final.
A new venue for next year will be unveiled on Sunday.
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