Davis Cup Portland: Day One

USA-2. Croatia-0.

I know they say not to count your chickens before they hatch, but these are some remarkably healthy eggs.

Here in Portland, after day-1 of this Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinal, Team USA leads Croatia 2-0 after an inspired top-12 win from Jack Sock and a routine beat-down of an ATP World Tour “next generation” rising star by John Isner.

Tomorrow, Bob and Mike Bryan will have a chance to secure a spot in the Semifinals for Team USA, where the U.S. will play at home vs. France or the Czech Republic. Nine years ago, Bob and Mike faced similar circumstances in Portland during the Davis Cup Final. That Saturday, they defeated Russia in straight-sets and captured the Davis Cup Title – ending a 12-year U.S. drought. Here’s what Captain Jim Courier had to say after John’s win put Team USA in a commanding lead:

We don’t have to worry about who we’re going to play as far as combinations go, something that I think the Croatians will be considering, what their best combination for tomorrow is. [Will they substitude Cilic for Draganja?] It’s not something we worry about when we have Bob and Mike and they’re healthy. For us, we’re putting on the hard hats and letting Bob and Mike do what they do so well out there. Most of the time in Davis Cup that’s been enough. No guarantees, but I like our chances. 

The stats are encouraging. The U.S. is 157-3 all-time when leading 2-0 in Davis Cup competition. Bob and Mike now own 112 ATP World Tour doubles titles, 16 Grand Slam championships, and together, hold a 24-4 record playing Davis Cup rubbers on Saturday. The odds certainly lean toward a U.S.-based Davis Cup Semifinal this September, the week following the U.S. Open.

Jack Sock def. Marin Cilic 4-6, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4

Understatement: This was a huge win for Sock. Down 2-sets to love, he staged a comeback against a Grand Slam champion and the #12 player in the world…and won. It’s as mentally adroit as I’ve ever seen Sock play against a top-ranked opponent. He was agressive (at times overly agressive), yet unfamiliarly tactical when it mattered. He won on HIS terms.

The 3rd-set break at 4-all fueled the stadium. Jack channeled that energy into stubborn determination and focus, taking set-3…then set-4…and ultimately the match. Sock was actually down 0-3 to start the decider, but he broke back in game-5, then again at 4-all. He even fought back from 15-40 in the final game to serve it out.

It was a rewarding win for the American tennis fan, witnessing the youngest member of Team USA plow-through with a “refuse to lose” mentalilty. Meanwhile, it was a day of firsts for Jack: His first Davis Cup rubber ever played in front of a home crowd, the first time he’s ever come-back to win a match after being down two sets; and earlier today, he was named to his first U.S. Olympic team. Jack Sock, after the match:

Haven’t played a ton of five-setters in my career. Haven’t come back from two sets to love down. To do that today, in front of the home crowd for the team, it almost feels extra special today…feels unreal.

Needless to say, it was a discouraging result for Marin Cilic – who dropped another 5-setter a little over a week ago, falling to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals.

John Isner def. Borna Coric 6-4, 6-4, 6-3

The pressure was off. Sock’s win freed-up Isner to swing-freely and focus on his own game, his own style of play…results be damned. Going into Rubber #2 with a lead was pure catharsis – anxiety and tension eliminated. John Isner, on how he felt following Jack’s win:

I’m just sitting right here and he’s down two sets to love and things aren’t looking too good. He won the third set. I saw that he had a lot of positive energy on his side. Then he wins that fourth set, and I’m getting really animated in the locker room in the fifth set. He was able to pull it out playing incredible tennis. For me, it helps a lot. I feel like it takes a bit of pressure off me as well, knowing that regardless of what I do out there on the court, we’re not going to be losing. At worst, we’ll be 1-1. I was in a good spot going out there today thanks to Jack.

John played definitive “Isner tennis” from ball-up, protecting serve and scoring a timely break on his 19-year-old opponent to steal set-one. Set-two was a re-run – unforced errors from Coric in game-10 handed John a 2-0 lead. With an early break in the third, John served it out with an ace on match point, defeating Coric in just 2-hours.

Despite the win, John has work to do this weekend. He faced one or more break points in six of his first seven service games…certainly not a happy statistic for his game’s DNA.

With a little more experience managing nerves and maintaining focus in high-pressure moments versus tennis’ top talent – Borna Coric will be ridiculously dangerous. On a Friday in Portland, Croatia already down one rubber, a win – a must to give Croatia a chance to win the Tie – was too much to ask of the 19-year-old.