Australia holds all the aces heading into the final day of its crunch Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan after Matt Ebden and Lleyton Hewitt secured a gutsy five-set doubles win on Friday.
The pair defeated Denis Istomin and Farrukh Dustov 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 3-6 6-3 on clay in Namangan to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five tie.
It left Australia needing to win only one of Sunday’s two reverse singles matches to progress to September’s World Group play-offs, where they would earn a shot at returning to the competition’s top tier for the first time since 2007.
Australian captain Pat Rafter spared Hewitt from Friday’s singles, with Marinko Matosevic losing in four sets to Istomin after Tomic won the opening rubber against Dustov.
The Uzbeks came out firing by breaking Hewitt’s serve in the third game of the opening set.
But the Australian pair fought back to level at 3-3 and then pounced on Istomin’s service game at 6-5 to take the first set.
The home side rallied to take the second in a tiebreak but another crucial break on Istomin’s serve late in the third set allowed Australia to go 2-1 up.
Istomin and Dustov fought back to send the match to a deciding set but the Australia duo displayed typical Aussie fight in the fifth.
They secured a crucial early break, from 0-40 down, and showed nerves of steel in holding off the Uzbeks, with a crucial hold from 0-40 down on Hewitt’s serve to reach 5-2.
Ebden had battled illness in the days leading up to the match but still showed the form that helped him to a mixed doubles Grand Slam title at the Australian Open earlier this year.
Ebden has preserved his unbeaten Davis Cup record, previously winning 4 from 4 singles matches and now can add a doubles win to his clean record.
Ebden paid tribute to Hewitt after the match, saying the veteran helped to inspire him in the deciding set.
“Rusty was incredible. He really showed me how to win a fifth set,” Ebden said.
“He got super pumped, definitely led me and came up with some big points.
“It was a good quality match and such an important one to win.”
Meanwhile, Australian Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter paid tribute to both sides, admitting he was surprised with how Uzbekistan kept fighting.
“It was one of the best doubles matches I’ve ever seen,” Rafter said.
“It was a match that went a long time and that sets us up well for tomorrow but we’ve got to get the job done, no complacency.”
Bernard Tomic can wrap it up if he beats Uzbek No.1 Istomin in the first match, while Hewitt would likely come in to face Dustov if the tie goes to a deciding fifth rubber.