Pliskova upsets Osaka in Tokyo final

Karolina Pliskova upset home favourite Naomi Osaka in Tokyo on Sunday to win the Pan Pacific Open.

The newly crowned US Open champion Osaka came into the final on a 10-match winning streak, but appeared strangely nervous as Pliskova rattled off a 6-4, 6-4 win in just over an hour.

Osaka had not dropped a set in the tournament to date, but was wayward on the day, her Czech opponent played the perfect game, capitalising on her only two break points to seal the straight sets win and her second title of the season.

Pliskova took advantage of an Osaka double fault at 2-2 in the first set, while a succession of errors by the 20-year old at 4-4 in the second handed Pliskova a second opportunity she did not pass up as she served out the victory.

The win saw Pliskova close in on a place at the season ending WTA Finals in Singapore. She is now in ninth place in the running, with only the top eight securing a spot.

It was a second final loss in Tokyo for Osaka after defeat to Caroline Wozniacki in 2016.

Murray prepping for Shenzhen comeback

Andy Murray is set to participate in the Asian Swing as he prepares for action on the hard courts of the Shenzhen next week.

The former world number one underwent hip surgery in January and it has been a stop-start kind of recovery, playing in events to see where his level is at then taking extended breaks.

Last time out, the Scot was earned a first round win at the US Open but lost out to the powerful Fernando Verdasco in four sets in the second round. Now, Murray prepares to return to China at the Shenzhen Open where he earned the silverware in 2014, also off the back of an injury.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been back, but yeah it’s kind of a similar-ish situation,” the three-time grand slam winner told

“I’ve been playing a lot more in the build-up to Shenzhen, but it’s similar in some ways in that I’m not quite back to where I’d like to be yet, but kind of improving each week. Hopefully I can play some good tennis and get on a bit of a run.

“I’m probably 85 per cent, 90 per cent. That’s from a physical perspective. I think I need matches and tournaments and also more time training where I’m feeling good so I can get a lot of practice on the court.

"This year for me has been a lot of starting, practising, playing a couple of tournaments and then stopping, resting, rehabbing. Like after New York, I didn’t hit a ball for two weeks and I was doing a lot of training and conditioning."

The current world number 308 will open his account in Shenzhen against local hopeful Zhang Zhizhen on Tuesday.

Osaka to face Pliskova in Tokyo final

Third-seeded Naomi Osaka will face fourth seed Karolina Pliskova in Sunday's final of the Toray Pan Pacific Open after both won their semi-final matches on Saturday in Tokyo.

Japan's US Open champion, Osaka, defeated Italy's Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3 while Czech Pliskova battled for two hours and five minutes to defeat American Donna Vekic 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, earlier in the day.

Osaka looked in complete control against Giorgi throughout her match breaking the Italian's serve twice in each set to reach her third final of the year in just 71 minutes, having not dropped a set all week.

The third seed's aggressive play and especially her serve, with nine aces, dropping just eight points in her eight service games, were behind her impressive victory.

"I think [my serve] got me out of a lot of trouble today," Osaka said afterwards. "She was playing well, and I served well. I really wanted to get to the final."

Fourth seed Pliskova was pushed hard by Vekic before winning 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 for a spot in Sunday's final.

Pliskova has had tough matches all week, having saved two match points against American qualifier Alison Riske in the last round, then fighting back from a set down to get past Daria Gavrilova, earlier in the tournament.

Former World No.1 Pliskova was on fire in the opening set dominating the rallies. She broke Vekic twice early on to lead 4-0 and went on to win the set 6-2.

In the next set, Pliskova looked like she would cruise past Vekic as she broke to lead 3-1. But Vekic hung in and Pliskova started making unforced errors for the Croat to get back in the match.

Vekic finally broke the Pliskova serve to level things at 3-3, and then won four games in a row to lead 5-3, going on to claim the set 6-4 to force a decider.

The third set was tight with a break of serve coming early for Pliskova in the third game to lead 2-1.

She then kept Vekic under pressure throughout, saving two break points on her own serve, before breaking for the second time in the set to win the match 6-3 and a meeting with Osaka.

"It was another long one today!" Pliskova said after her victory. "I feel like I'm improving in every match, but the opponents are always tougher. That’s normal in semi-finals - there are no easy opponents.

"I think Donna was playing well and she's beaten a lot of tough players this tournament. I was expecting a tough one. For a while it was looking like it maybe could be under two hours, but not really."

Sock, Anderson win gives Team World hope

Jack Sock teamed up with Kevin Anderson to atone for a Laver Cup afternoon singles loss with a convincing doubles win over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the final match of the first day of action in Chicago.

The 6-7, 6-3, (10-6) victory gave Team World a badly-needed point after three singles defeats in a row.

Federer had managed to win on his first appearance alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles last year, but there was to be no repeat in his much-anticipated debut with Djokovic.

The pair’s rustiness in the four-man format was apparent as early as the third game, when Djokovic drilled a ball into Federer’s back, prompting embarrassed laughter all round.

However, they won the first set before Sock and Anderson began to take control.

Anderson’s huge serving backed up by some sharp volleying from both men, set up a match tiebreaker.

A Federer double fault at 4-4 and two big serves from Anderson edged the red shirts to the brink of victory before Sock ripped a brilliant return winner past Federer to secure the home side a much-needed win.

The day began with Grigor Dimitrov giving Team Europe a perfect start to the competition as the Bulgarian eased to a straightforward 6-1, 6-4 victory against Frances Tiafoe in 66 minutes.

Dimitrov struck 10 aces and won 88 per cent of his first-serve points, converting all four of his break-point chances.

“Frances is a very tough opponent. We actually played about four or five weeks ago [at the Toronto Masters] so I knew what to expect. This is his home soil, so I had to be very composed and use every possibility that I had. I was moving well and I think I picked the right shot selections.”

Britain’s Kyle Edmund then put Team Europe 2-0 after sealing a 6-4, 5-7, (10-6) win against Sock.

“You look around the locker room and there is world class quality everywhere, so for me at 23-year-old to be involved in something like this is amazing. The opportunity came and it was a very quick decision for me so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible,” Edmund said.

“I felt I was controlling my game in the first set. The margins are very small, and the second set got away from me, so I just tried to be aggressive in the tie-break.”

The evening session’s first match had seen Team Europe go 3-0 ahead after David Goffin beat Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 4-6, (11-9).

Osaka marches on in Tokyo

World number seven Naomi Osaka advanced to the semi-finals of the Pan Pacific Open following a powerful display on Friday.

The US Open champion was too good for Barbora Strycova, winning 6-3, 6-4 in just over 90 minutes on the hard courts of the Japanese capital.

Osaka - who extends her current win streak to nine matches  - was better in the big moments against the eighth seed, converting all three of her breakpoints.

The pair swapped breaks in the opening set then Osaka broke again in the crucial eighth game, after which she served out the set.

In the second set, Osaka saved a breakpoint early on then broke the Czech to go 4-2 up, never looking back from there.

The victory earns the 20-year-old a semi-final date with Camila Giorgi, who is having a superlative tournament in her own right. On Thursday, the Italian knocked out top seed Caroline Wozniacki and on Friday was 5-3 up in the opening set against Victoria Azarenka before the Belarusian retired hurt.

Elsewhere, fourth seed Karolina Pliskova survived a second set comeback from Alison Riske and needed three match points to win 6-1, 6-7(5), 7-6(4) in a thrilling encounter.

The Czech will face rising star Donna Vekic, who upset second seed Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the day.

Roger Federer could return to clay next year

Roger Federer has revealed that he and his team are considering returning to the clay courts next season.

Federer has enjoyed a lot of renewed success in his career since deciding to avoid the clay court season entirely in recent years, but he revealed to ESPN that a return to playing at least some events on the red dirt is being discussed.

"The clay-court season is under review," Federer said ahead of the start of the Laver Cup, which begins Friday.

"It's not off the table. I will know by the end of the year."

The theory is that in avoiding clay court events, which have never been his strong suit, Federer is able to save all his energy and focus for the tournaments he has the best chance of winning, helping to preserve his 37-year-old body and prolong his career.

But many have been critical of his decision to skip Roland Garros, and Federer has also hinted that he does not really enjoy sitting out one of the year's Grand Slams.

"I would like to make up my mind ahead of time so I can plan my buildup, my fitness schedule, even the way I would approach my December practice sessions," Federer said. "It could benefit the clay-court season."

At his age, it is not a decision Federer will take lightly, however.

"This is something that is obviously a big deal. If you play the clay, it changes everything."

Asked why he would risk a return to clay, Federer said simply: "Just because I want to do it.

"It's a full-on passion thing."

Djokovic, Federer team up for Laver Cup doubles

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will pair up for tonight's Laver Cup doubles in a tournament that brings together 12 of the best players in the world.

Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg made the surprise announcement just hours after Federer said he "would like" to play with the Wimbledon and US Open champion.

"I would like to play with [Djokovic]," Federer said. "I hope he feels the same way.

"I get along very well with everybody. I think this time it's special that Rafa's [Nadal] not a part, but Djokovic is, and I've not spent much time with Djokovic in the past, but we get along very well.

"I'm happy he's got such great momentum coming in from the US Open, so I hope he can really also bring some points home for Team Europe."

The opening day of action starts with a singles match between Team Europe's Grigor Dimitrov and Frances Tiafoe representing Team World.

They will be followed by British No 1 Kyle Edmund (Team Europe) against Jack Sock for the World side.

In the night session, David Goffin of Team Europe will face Diego Schwartzman before the blockbuster doubles clash featuring Djokovic and Federer, world No 1 doubles player Sock and Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

"I did have an inkling they would play - I am surprised they would play the first day," said Team World captain McEnroe, who admitted to being shocked by Borg's decision to play the two top-ranked singles players, Djokovic and Federer, in the doubles.

McEnroe called up Tiafoe for Team World following the withdrawal of Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. The 20 year-old American, who was a member of Team World at the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague last year, won his maiden ATP Tour title at Delray Beach in February.

"Laver Cup was one of the highlights of 2017 for me, I had an awesome time and I'm so excited to join the team again and represent Team World in Chicago," said Tiafoe, who is ranked No 40 in the world.

"Prague was fantastic last year and I'm really looking forward to playing at 'home' here in the US. Chicagoans love their sports and I'm sure we'll get some loud support for Team World. I can't wait."

Each player will play at least one singles match during the first two days of the three-day event, while no player will play singles more than twice.

At least four of the six players must play doubles and no doubles combination can be played more than once, unless for the doubles decider on Day 3, if points are tied at 12-12.

Team World comprises non-playing captain and vice-captain John and Patrick McEnroe, along with Anderson, Isner, Schwartzman, Sock, Tiafoe and Nick Kyrgios.

Defending champions Team Europe are led by Borg and vice-captain Thomas Enqvist, with Federer, Djokovic, Dimitrov, Edmund, Goffin and Alexander Zverev taking to the courts.

Federer and Djokovic excited for Laver Cup team-up

As they prepare to team up for the first time in their careers, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic say they are excited by the prospect of joining forces.

The two greats will join Alexander Zverev, David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov and Kyle Edmund in trying to help Team Europe defend their Laver Cup title this weekend.

Last year, Federer memorably teamed up with fellow great Rafa Nadal as they helped the Europeans beat Team World in the inaugural edition of the competition.

It led to some amazing scenes, like when Roger and Rafa teamed up to win a doubles match, or when Nadal rushed onto the court to congratulate Federer after he defeated Nick Kyrgios to clinch the trophy.

This time around, Nadal is unfortunately injured, but Federer will find more than an able replacement in Djokovic.

And for once, the Swiss great says he's glad to be able to be on the same side as the Serbian.

“When you can’t beat them you have to join them. I am very excited,” Federer said.

“To be quite honest, last year it was an odd feeling when you’re sitting on the bench because I am a tennis player and I want to play.

“But for the first time I looked towards the court and thought ‘Oh Dominic Thiem’s playing or Rafa’s playing and those guys are playing better than me right now’.

“And I’m sure I’ll feel the same when Novak’s out there. It’s cool watching my guy, my team member beat up the other guy. This time it is actually good for me.

“It is going to be great fun and I can’t wait for not just the matches but also spending time together.”

Djokovic is making his debut in the competition after missing last year's edition due to injury, and he can't wait to get involved, having seen the awesome team spirit on display last year.

“The Laver Cup has a great team spirit, it’s something we’re missing a little bit on the tour," Djokovic said.

“So it’s great to see this concept and this format working well.

“I wanted to be a part of it and have a great experience.”

The three-day Laver Cup tournament gets under way on Friday.

Nadal withdraws from Asian Swing

World number one Rafael Nadal has been forced to withdraw from the upcoming Asian Swing due to his ongoing knee issue.

The Spaniard limped out of his semi-final at the US Open against Juan Martin Del Potro after receiving multiple on-court treatments for his ailing knee and being down two sets to love.

Last year, Nadal won the China Open in Beijing and lost in the final of the Shanghai Masters to a superlative Roger Federer. However, this year, the 17-time grand slam winner will be skipping the Asian Swing due to his injury, as he confirmed on social media.

"Hello everyone, as you know I had to retire from the party of semi-finals in the US Open and this past Monday I was in Barcelona watching with doctors the situation of my knee,” read the tweet.

“While the annoyances on my knee are nothing new, we have decided together with my medical and technical team not to participate in the Asian tour to recover the knee the way we have always done.

"I'm sorry I can't be with all the fans in China who are so many and with the organizers of the Beijing and Shanghai tournaments that have always had all the attentions with me and my team."

Nadal’s absence opens the door for world number two Federer and a resurgent Novak Djokovic to regain the top ranking from the Spaniard.

Osaka thumps Cibulkova, to reach Tokyo quarters

Third-seeded Naomi Osaka hammered Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old US Open champion needed just 60 minutes to defeat Slovak Cibulkova 6-2 6-1 and will face the winner of tomorrow's clash between Anett Kontaveit and Barbora Strycova in the quarter-finals.

Japan's Osaka started the match perfectly with two early breaks to lead 4-0 and thereafter went on to claim the opening set 6-2.

The next set was no different, as Cibulkova had no answers to her opponent's aggressive style of play, dropping serve in the third, fifth and seventh games to lose the set and match 6-1.

Osaka's serve was a big weapon in the match as she served 10 aces with no double faults in a very solid overall display.

"I didn't really feel any pressure," said Osaka afterwards. "It was really difficult because she's such a great player but I just thought it was more fun.

"My serve was really good," added Osaka. "I'm just grateful to be able to play here again."

In some other results, Former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova battled past Australian Daria Gavrilova 4-6, 6-4 6-4 and will next be up against American qualifier Alison Riske.

Riske scored the biggest upset of event so far when she crushed No.6 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-1 6-2.

French second seed Caroline Garcia was made to work hard to get past Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 2-6 7-5 and will face the winner of Thursday's match between Britain's Johanna Konta and Croatian Donna Vekic.

Injured Sharapova done for the year

Former world number one Maria Sharapova has ended her 2018 season early to fully recover from a shoulder injury.

The Russian superstar confirmed her withdrawal from the China Open, Tianjin Open and the Kremlin Cup as she focuses on rehabilitating her right shoulder for the 2019 season.

"Unfortunately as I recover from my right shoulder injury, I am withdrawing from Beijing, Tianjin and Moscow," the 31-year-old said in a statement.

"I will miss competing at each of these tournaments, but it is important that I allow for proper rest and recovery in the upcoming weeks.

“I was looking forward to coming back to Tianjin to defend my title but unfortunately I need to give myself time to recover from injury."

Sharapova failed to win any titles in 2018 but went deep in Rome, where she made the semi-finals, and then French Open, where she reached the last eight for the first time since 2014.

The current world number 24 hopes to start her 2019 season at the Shenzhen Open, which starts on December 31 on China.  

Line judge hit's out at Serena

An Australian grand slam line judge has hit out at former world number one Serena Williams following her US Open outburst.

In a much publicised meltdown in the US Open final, Williams called chair umpire Carlos Ramos and ‘liar’ and ‘thief’ which eventually lead to her third violation and being penalised a game.

However, Ramos is not the only official to feel the wrath of a losing Williams, just ask Shino Tsurubuchi. At the 2009 US Open, the Japanese line judge was on the receiving end in Williams’ famous "I swear to God I'll f****** take the ball and shove it down your f****** throat," attack after making a call.

As such, an anonymous Australian line judge wrote to revealing that there may be officials who boycott Williams matches in the future.

"I can't speak for other umpires (around 400 of them at the Australian Open) but I do feel there was a genuine feeling at that time that Serena is a bit more difficult," she wrote.

"Someone pointed out the line umpire harassed by Serena at the US Open, everyone was talking about it. Does that umpire have the right to call Serena sexist or racist for harassing her?

"Umpires are always in a difficult situation because they aren't meant to talk or show any bias so there's an issue if they go on strike against Serena, as is being raised now.

"That would be an extraordinary event, but who would seriously want to umpire her? She won't shake your hand if she doesn't like the call, she keeps on blaming the umpire instead of her reaction and she doesn't apologise for it.

“The fact that this strike is even being discussed is evidence of a feeling.

“So what's her point really? It seems like a diversion because at the end of the day, she was feeling a lot of emotion, was desperate to win, and was losing against an unknown.”

Williams continued her argument after the loss, labelling Ramos sexist.

Vekic sends Stephens packing in Tokyo

The unseeded Donna Vekic caused an upset in her opening match of the Toray Pan Pacific Open by defeating fifth-seeded Sloane Stephens in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old Croatian defeated the American 6-4 6-4 in one hour and 28 minutes and will next be up against Britain's Johanna Konta.

This is the second time in 2018 that Vekic has beaten the former US Open Champion. She also got the better of the American earlier in the year at Wimbledon.

In the first set, the momentum shifted both ways at times with Stephens dropping serve early, then three games later she broke back, only to drop serve again in the ninth game, for Vekic to serve out the set 6-4.

The next set was as unpredictable as the opener, with five breaks of serve but in the end, Vekic did enough to win the set and match 6-4.

In an interview after her victory, Vekic said she had felt good on the court and had followed her game plan.

"I felt good. I beat her last time we played, so I knew my game plan and I tried to stick to it," said Vekic. "I'm playing really well this year. I'm improving a lot.

"Even when I lose, I keep working hard and doing the right things, and I feel like it's showing on the court."

In other results on Tuesday, Vekic's next opponent, Konta played well to crush qualifier Gabriela Dabrowski 6-2 6-0.

Australian seventh seed Ashleigh Barty beat America's Coco Vandeweghe 4-6 6-3 7-5 and will face either former world number one Victoria Azarenka or Kurumi Nara of Japan in the round of 16.

American Alison Riske did enough to down Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 6-4 6-4 while Czech eighth seed Barbora Strycova saw off Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-4 6-4.

Muguruza impresses in Tokyo

Garbine Muguruza impressed in the opening round of the Pan Pacific Open, easing past rising star Belinda Bencic in straight sets on Monday.

The former French Open winner was too hot to handle for the talented Bencic, winning 6-2, 6-4 on the hard courts of the Japanese capital to advance to the second round.

Muguruza was superb on serve, keeping up a 76% first service record and looked like her old self, controlling proceedings from the baseline.

The sixth seed was better in the big moments as well, converting 5/7 breakpoints, two of them coming early in the opening set to take 4-1 lead.

In the second set, the pair swapped breaks and it was anyone’s set at 4-4. But it was here were a series of powerful backhands helped Muguruza win the final three games in a row, taking her winners tally to 19.

Elsewhere, Camila Giorgi knocked out local hopeful Misaki Doi 6-2, 6-1 with little drama and Anett Kontaveit battled past Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 7-6(5).

Hewitt heroics give Aussies hope

Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt helped keep his team’s hopes alive in their Davis Cup World Group play-off against Austria after nominating himself to play in the doubles rubber in Graz.

The 37 year-old partnered John Peers to a crucial 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach after the Aussies suffered two defeats in the singles on Friday in the best-of-five-match tie.

Hewitt, who made his Davis Cup debut 19 years ago, retired in 2016 but returned to playing doubles earlier this year.

He had originally nominated Jordan Thompson alongside Peers but his decision to play himself proved to be a master stroke against a high quality Austrian pairing.

“I think our preparation was the key today,” Hewitt said. “We knew exactly how we wanted to play today and played it perfectly right from the start. They were the ones who had to try to change things. We backed our best tennis against their best tennis and that’s how it played out.”

Stefan Koubek, the Austrian captain, said he’d been impressed by Hewitt’s tennis.

“You’ve got to have a lot of respect for Lleyton,” he said. “What he did today was awesome. He was returning like he used to on his best days earlier in his career. He was motivated, he was giving his heart for Australia and it’s amazing to see."

Meanwhile, Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot bounced back from a set down to win their doubles match and put Great Britain ahead in their tie against Uzbekistan in Glasgow.

The British pair beat Denis Istomin and Sanjar Fayziev 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-2, 6-3 to leave the hosts needing victory in only one of today's two singles rubbers.

"We were fighting hard in the first couple of sets but couldn't quite find a break," Murray said. "We were so close to being two sets to love down, then we relaxed a bit and played really well in the last two sets."

Murray, the US Open mixed doubles champion, and Wimbledon doubles semi-finalist Inglot were favourites to beat the Uzbeks ranked 448 and 472 in doubles.

However, Istomin and Fayziev broke in the third game before taking the first set.

Neither duo could make a breakthrough in the second set until Istomin netted in the tie-break to hand it to the British pair. The Uzbeks had held set point at 8-7 before the Britons won the next three points.

Murray and Inglot had to wait until the third game of the third set to secure their first break of the match but after doing so they never looked back.

"It got a little bit dicey but we kept it together," Inglot said. "After we got that second set we were able to settle a little bit and the crowd really got involved and helped us out, so thank you so much."

After Saturday’s doubles rubbers in the other World Group Playoffs it was:

Argentina 3 Colombia 0
Canada 2 Netherlands 1
Hungary 2 Czech Republic 1
Japan 3 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
Serbia 3 India 0
Switzerland 1 Sweden 2

Defending champs France through to Davis Cup final

Reigning Davis Cup champions France are through to another final after dispatching Spain 3-0 on Saturday.

In front of their home fans in Lille, the current holders wrapped up a semi-final victory with a day to spare to set up a final against either Croatia or USA.

France took a commanding 2-0 lead after Friday's opening two singles matches thanks to victories for Lucas Pouille and Benoit Paire.

That gave them a chance of killing off the match with another victory in Saturday's doubles tie, and that's precisely what they did as veteran doubles pair Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut beat Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) inside the Pierre Mauroy soccer stadium.

It is the first time since 2002 that France have reached back-to-back finals.

Spain had to make do without top-ranked Rafael Nadal after he was ruled out due to the right-knee injury he suffered during his US Open semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro last week.

The second Davis Cup semi-final is still alive after the USA fought back to reduce their deficit against Croatia.

The Europeans led 2-0 after the opening day thanks to singles victories for Marin Cilic and Borna Coric, but the American doubles pair of Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison kept the tie alive with a hard-fought 7-5 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5) victory over Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic on Saturday.

Cilic will have a chance to wrap up the win for Croatia when he plays Steve Johnson in the fourth rubber tomorrow.

Evans wins Davis Cup battle in Glasgow

Great Britain and Uzbekistan are level at 1-1 in their Davis Cup World Group Playoff after a victory for Dan Evans and shock loss for Cameron Norrie in the opening singles rubbers in Glasgow.

Evans claimed a hard-fought 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over World No. 60 Denis Istomin, the highest-ranked player in the tie.

The Briton was playing his first Davis Cup rubber since serving a 12-month drug ban after remnants of cocaine contaminated legal medication in his washbag.

"It's been tough but everybody who supported me, who has been right behind me from the time I started back, I can only thank them," Evans said after his match.

"Days like today don't come around very often. Who knows, I may not get in the team next time, so I have to remember this and enjoy it."

Evans, who had been a set and a break up before Istomin fought back, made it hard work for himself by missing 18 of 23 break points.

World No. 70 Norrie squandered a match point in a 0-6, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, 6-2 defeat by World No. 434 Jurabek Karimov.

Meanwhile, hosts Serbia took a 2-0 lead against India in their Group Play-off tie after Laslo Djere beat Ramkumar Ramanathan 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7-2) 6-2 and Dusan Lajovic powered past Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Djere had to dig deep after Ramanathan won the first set. The 23 year-old World No. 135-ranked Indian looked the more confident player in the early part of the contest before a disastrous double fault in the final game of the second set allowed Djere back into the match.

The pair traded breaks early in the third set, with Ramanathan volleying superbly and Djere replying with superb shots from the baseline, but the Serb took it after a near-flawless tiebreaker.

Djere saved two break points while trailing 2-1 in the fourth set before wrapping up the contest in 3 hours 11 minutes.

“I was quite tense before the match because we headed into it as the favourites and I am delighted to have given us the lead,” Djere told Serbian television in a courtside interview.

“I got a bit of a scare as I twisted my ankle when I tumbled over early in the first set. Fortunately I was able to recover quickly and I’ll be ready for Sunday’s reverse singles,” he said.

Lajovic was never really in trouble against Gunneswaran, although the Indian refused to roll over, showing occasional flashes of brilliance before the World No. 56 claimed victory in 1 hour, 56 minutes.

“It wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed but I was in control throughout and I tried hard to make sure I gave him no chance of getting into the match,” Lajovic said.

The winners of this weekend’s World Group Playoffs will be seeded in the revamped Davis Cup in February.

Friday’s other World Group Playoff ties:

Argentina 2 Colombia 0
Austria 2 Australia 0
Canada 2 Netherlands 0
Hungary 1 Czech Republic 1
Japan 2 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
Switzerland 1 Sweden 1

Ramos returns to umpire's chair

Carlos Ramos returned to the umpire's chair on Friday for the first time since being called a “liar” and a “thief” by Serena Williams, taking charge of the Davis Cup World Group semi-final match between Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Frances Tiafoe of the USA.

“I’m just focusing on this tie and working again. That’s all I can say,” the Portuguese umpire told the Associated Press on Friday.

Ramos calmed the raucous crowd in Zadar, Croatia, several times and came down from his chair to check a few ball marks on the clay court but otherwise had a quiet match.

“I didn’t know Ramos was sitting in the chair. I really wasn’t paying attention,” Tiafoe said. “I was more worried about the person across the net than the official.”

Earlier in the week Ramos revealed he had avoided walking the streets of New York on Sunday to avoid any "complicated situations", but confirmed he would be back in the umpire’s chair on Friday.

"I am good, under the circumstances," Ramos was quoted as saying in Portugal's Tribuna Expresso.

"It's an unhappy situation but a-la-carte refereeing doesn't exist. Don't you worry about me!"

Ramos docked Williams a game for verbal abuse - having already given her a point penalty for smashing her racquet and a code violation for coaching - in her US Open final defeat by Naomi Osaka last weekend.

However, there were no controversies for him to deal with as Cilic beat Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

Cilic's victory over Tiafoe made him Croatia's most successful Davis Cup player, the World No. 6 going past the 36 Davis Cup rubbers won by Ivan Ljubicic.

The former US Open champion broke twice in the first set and three times in the second before the American, making his Davis Cup debut, pushed him harder in the third.

Davis Cup wrap: Croatia, France in-charge

Croatia leads the USA 2-0 after day one of the Davis Cup semi-finals while France looks in control over Spain in the second tie on Friday.

In Zadar, Borna Coric gave Croatia the 1-0 lead by defeating American Steve Johnson 6-4 7-6(4) 6-3 in the opening rubber.

Marin Cilic then put Croatia firmly in the driving seat, when he defeated Frances Tiafoe 6-1 6-3 7-6(5), to put the hosts 2-0 ahead.

From the word go, Cilic was in control by dominating the opening two sets. Tiafoe made his opponent work hard in the third before the Croatian won the tiebreaker 7-5 to give his country a solid lead after day one.

In the second semi-final at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, France's Benoit Pair outplaying an injured Pablo Carreno-Busta of Spain 7-5 6-1 6-0 in the opening rubber.

"I've waited a long time for this and it's a dream to win on my debut," said Paire afterwards. "Though it's been a long time, hopefully, it's not too late for me and I’ll get more chances."

French number one Lucas Pouille battled for three hours 41 minutes, coming from a set down, to somehow get past Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 2-6 6-4 to put his country 2-0 ahead.

Strycova: Williams' sexism claim 'BS'

Barbora Strycova has rubbished Serena Williams’ claim that her treatment by the umpire in the recent US Open final was sexist, and said she only started complaining because she was losing.

Williams lost her cool with the official in the final after being penalised for receiving coaching and smashing her racquet, calling Carlos Ramos a ‘thief’, an outburst that cost her a game penalty.

During the altercation and again after the match, Williams suggested that sexism was part of the reason why she was punished so severely, although Strycova told Czech website that she doesn’t agree.

“This is a bulls**t, for umpires being women or men doesn’t matter,” said the world No. 25.

“In comparison, I never saw (Rafael) Nadal shouting like that with an umpire.

“I find it interesting that she did it only when she was losing.”

Strycova was also surprised that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA) later came out in support of Williams.

“Me, as a woman, take a lot of warnings,” she said.

“WTA defence surprised me. Will the rules change in Serena’s matches?”

“Ramos is tough, one of the best umpires in the world,” Strycova added.

“He did what he had to do in that match, because she overcame the limit.

“Did she have to behave differently only because she was Serena Williams?"