By Philip James
Evgeny Donskoy (RUS) def James Ward (GBR) 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 8-6
While Ward’s match may have been less dramatic, the loss will be felt even more sorely as he lost in just over three hours and 45 minutes after being two sets up with a break in the third.
London-born Ward, ranked 214 in the world, started excellently and outplayed his opponent, ranked 124 places above him, for the first half of the match.
However from the time that the Russian broke back to level the third set he looked the stronger and the fitter man.
Another break in late in the third was enough to give Donskoy the set and hope for a comeback and with a break early in the fourth, the match was quickly into a decider before British fans really knew what had hit them.
To his credit Ward battled valiantly through the final set, winning some amazing scrambling rallies while the breaks of serve, so prevalent in the opening four sets dried up for both men.
With no fifth set tie-break it was difficult to see where the break might come, and though Ward managed to earn a few deuces on his opponent’s serve, he could not force a match point.
At 6-6, Ward disappointingly lost his serve to 15, but fought back as Donskoy served for the set, saving match points with some amazing, if desperate play.
Donskoy was not to be denied however, and the loss of the first two rubbers leaves the British team facing a monumental task to win the tie to go forward to a World Group play-off in September.
While Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray will be favourites to win the doubles rubber on Saturday, Evans and Ward will be underdogs in the reverse rubbers against two Russians who showed grit and fight while not even playing at their best.
Ward has been in indifferent form this season, almost qualifying for the Australian Open while reaching a Challenger final in February, but had won just one of his last six matches before today.
He can take solace in pushing a high ranked opponent so hard today – remembering that Donskoy took a set off Andy Murray at Indian Wells in March.
But he will need to put the disappointment behind him and play out of his skin on Sunday against Tursunov, assuming Fleming and Marray can keep the tie alive tomorrow.