Davis Cup Birmingham. Day One

Tonight, Team USA did it’s job. A win is a win, as they say. Switzerland proved that it wasn’t back in Birmingham to simply roll over and hand-over the 1st-Round win…

On paper, Jack Sock (World #20) and John Isner (World #23) should have decimated their opponents: Marco Chiudinelli (World #146) and Henri Laaksonen (World #127). Marco hasn’t won a single match this year. He fell in the first round of qualifying at both the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and the Australian Open, then lost to American Austin Krajicek in the first round of the Maui Challenger. Henri Laaksonen started 2017 with a 2nd-Round run at the Challenger in Bangkok, fell in the first round of qualifying in Melbourne, then climbed to a career-high ranking of #127 after reaching the Semifinals in Maui.

Jack Sock’s first month of the year has been phenomenal. He won his second career singles title in Auckland, then reached the 3rd-Round at the Australian Open, where he fell in four to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. John Isner lost a heartbreaker to Steve Johnson in the Auckland Quarterfinals, falling in a deciding set tie-break…then got beat by a red-hot Mischa Zverev in Round-2 Down Under. Zverev’s serve-and-volley game was the talk of the Australian Open, carrying him past Andy Murray to reach his first Grand Slam Quarterfinal, where he fell to eventual champion Roger Federer.

Friday’s matches were much closer than the scores would indicate; but behind Jim Courier’s tutelage and cautious optimism, both Jack and John knew the opening rubbers wouldn’t be a walk in the park. They overcame their nerves as much as their opponents; nerves exposed by Croatia’s come-from-behind victory over Team USA last July in Portland. Both should be gratified with their wins.

Jack Sock def. Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 6-3, 6-1

These two last played in the first round of the 2010 US Open, when Jack was just 18-years-old and still playing Futures. Ranked #651 in the world, Jack fell in four. Poetically, John Isner would end Chiudinelli’s run two days later in the second round.

In Davis Cup circles, Marco is best known for having won the longest match in Davis Cup history. He and partner Stan Wawrinka battled past Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic 24-22 in the fifth back in 2013. The Swiss would go on to lose that 1st-Round Tie after Wawrinka’s four-set loss to Berdych on Sunday. That record-setting doubles match lasted over seven hours, and weighed heavily in the ITF’s decision to implement a 5th and deciding-set tie-break starting in 2016.

Friday’s clash between Sock and Chiudinelli really boiled down to one defining game. On serve, with Sock up 5-4 in the first, a nervy Chiudinelli struggled to land first serves. A double fault handed Sock triple set point. An ace and two Sock unforced errors later, Marco got it to deuce. Chiudinelli managed to save two more match points, but Sock earned the break and the set on set-point number six. After that, Jack settled in, broke early in sets two and three, and delivered a comfortable win for Team USA.

John Isner def. Henri Laaksonen 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(1)

John. John. John. In set-1, Isner’s first sign of trouble came in the eighth game. He had to save three break points and overcome a 0-40 deficit to stay on serve. Laaksonen then held at love and broke Isner to take the first set on his one and only set-point. At 2-all in the second, John found his rhythm, earning three consecutive breaks, winning seven consecutive games, and dominating sets two and three. In the fourth, both held through the tie-break, where Isner secured the 2-0 lead for Team USA by crushing Laaksonen 7-1. It was a milestone win for the Davis Cup veteran, as John surpassed 500 career Davis Cup aces (He served 28 aces on the night, with no doubles faults).

While a decent come-from-behind win over Laaksonen; arguably, John’s biggest Davis Cup win came against Switzerland in Fribourg five years ago. On clay, he defeated Roger Federer in four sets, while teammate Mardy Fish took-down Stan Wawrinka in five. Ultimately the Bryans sealed the win over the Swiss with a Saturday defeat of Roger and Stan on their home turf.

Henri Laaksonen is one to keep an eye on over the next several years. The 24-year-old’s biggest Davis Cup wins came in 2015, when he won both of his singles rubbers over Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans and Steve Darcis (in Belgium), despite Switzerland’s loss in the 1st-Round Tie. After his Semifinal run at the Challenger in Maui last week, he has reached a career-high ranking of #127 and is on the cusp of cracking the top-100.

Doubles Tomorrow: Team USA vs. Team Switzerland

Saturday is all about doubles. Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey are scheduled to take the court at 2:00p with Antoine Bellier and Adrien Bossel of Team Switzerland. Oddly enough, Steve and Sam won their first doubles title together last May in Switzerland (Geneva). Not to mention, Steve earned Doubles Bronze with Jack Sock at the Olympic Games in Rio. Bellier and Bossel will be teaming for the first time in Davis Cup competition. Don’t be surprised if Captain Severin Luthi makes a change with the Swiss line-up before Saturday’s match.