Though he’s undoubtedly a “decibel” competitor for Azarenka and Sharapova, it’s hard not to appreciate the aggressive play of Brazil’s Thiago Alves in Jacksonville on Sunday. He shouldered Brazil’s hopes in the First Round World Group Tie against Sam Querrey of Team USA, and rose to the challenge.
Ranked 135th on the ATP World Tour, Alves battled 20th ranked Querrey from ball-up, taking the first set 6-4. Sam fought back with heavy first serves and overpowering forehands, taking the next two sets 6-3 and 6-4. In the fourth and deciding set, the pressure of the moment got to Querrey, and he dropped a match point while on serve. Alves eventually forced a tie-break, only to get bested by Querrey 7-3, clinching the tie for the Americans.
Honestly, after the first day of play, a U.S. win seemed inevitable. On Friday, John Isner easily handled Alves in straight sets, as did Sam Querrey with Thomaz Bellucci. But on Saturday, coming off their 13th Grand Slam title, Bob and Mike Bryan were defeated for a third time by Brazil’s Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. It took the Brazilians 5-sets, but they were still in the hunt.
Surely, 16th-ranked Isner would seal the deal versus 35th-ranked Bellucci; but John was also denied in five sets. After easily winning the first set, John lost the second, captured the third in a tie-break, then lost the remaining sets 4-6 and 3-6. John’s reaction after the match: “…just got to break through in a big moment, whether it’s a Davis Cup match, whether it’s a Grand Slam…It’s something I haven’t done. It feels like it’s a huge gorilla on my back or something….It’s wearing on me a bit, to be honest, mentally. It’s very disappointing. It’s something I have to improve.”
It all came down to Querrey and Alves, and Sam delivered the U.S. victory in a decisive fifth match. 12-years prior, Pete Sampras was the last American to win a crucial fifth rubber over the Czechs during a Davis Cup Tie in Los Angeles. Captain Jim Courier’s reaction on Sunday: “It was a good effort from everybody, particularly the Brazilians…They deserve a lot of credit for pushing us and making us come up with what we had to at the end.”
Close-call averted, Team USA now faces the most talented team in the 2013 campaign for the Davis Cup: Serbia. With players like Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki, Nenad Zimonjic and potentially Janko Tipsarevic, the cards are stacked against the Americans, even with home court advantage. The Quarterfinals take place April 5th through the 7th, scheduled for Boise, Idaho.
In other Davis Cup First Round play, there were plenty of surprises: Canada defeated Spain (3-2), Italy beat Croatia (3-2), and Kazakhstan eliminated Austria (3-1). As expected, Serbia bested Belgium, France downed Israel, Argentina shut-out Germany, and the defending champion Czech Republic outdueled Switzerland.
So…other Quarterfinal matches this April will feature Italy in Canada, France in Argentina and Czech Republic in Kazakhstan.
Without question, the 5-set match of Davis Cup weekend featured Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol of Czech Republic vs. Marco Chiudinelli and Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. With the Tie even at 1-all, the teams played 46 games in the 5th set alone, with the Czechs finally winning 24-22. The match was a record breaker, lasting over 7-hours!
And poor Stan Wawrinka; after losing a 5-set slug-fest to Djokovic in the Australian Open, he lost the 5-set doubles event on Saturday, and then went on to lose the Tie in four-sets at the hands of Tomas Berdych. He was emotionally drained on Sunday – even left the post-match press conference in tears, before coming back to explain that the loss to Berdych was the toughest loss he’s faced in 10-years of Davis Cup.
While American Davis Cup attendance was sparse in Jacksonville on a Super Bowl weekend, die-hard tennis fans who did attend were treated to classic, unpredictable Davis Cup competition. My thanks to the USTA family, headed-up by Jeff Ryan, for their commitment to deliver on player and fan expectation, even when the fans don’t necessarily show up!
A huge thanks to stadium director Todd Noonan and music director Dieter Ruehle, who have the guts to spend countless hours with me in close quarters. As the announcer, it’s nice having the easiest job in the arena while working with legitimate talent: Dieter’s back to working Lakers and Kings at Staples Center in LA, while Todd’s off to host the Qatar Total Open next week in Doha. Knock ’em dead, Todd – see you in Indian Wells.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is one the best venues in which we’ve had the pleasure of working. Technologically, the arena is up to date, and a great asset for the City of Jacksonville. The team of professionals who work the venue event after event are top-notch – from video and lighting, to security and concessions. Thank you for your flexibility, patience, reliability and talent. With so many moving parts, Davis Cup Opening Ceremonies can turn into utter chaos; in Jacksonville, no one missed a beat and delivered on every cue. Thank you – I hope we work together again down the road!