PREVIEW: Davis Cup Portland – USA vs. Croatia

This weekend, the United States Davis Cup Team featuring John Isner, Jack Sock, the Bryan Brothers and Captain Jim Courier face a dangerous group of Croatians including 2014 U.S. Open Champion Marin Cilic, 19-year-old ATP NEXTGEN rising star Borna Coric, Ivan Dodig, Marin Draganja and Captain Zeljko Krayan. The U.S. is the most successful nation in Davis Cup history with 32-titles. The United States and Croatia have faced each other 3-times before. The U.S. has never won. Not once.

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Team USA. Team Croatia. The draw at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

2009

Their last encounter was seven years ago in Porec, Croatia – also during the World Group Quarterfinals. The loss was devastating for Team USA, just 18-months removed from capturing the Davis Cup title. Marin Cilic was the grim reaper:

  • Ivo Karlovic def. James Blake 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 7-5
  • Marin Cilic def. Mardy Fish 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1, 8-6
  • Bob/Mike Bryan def. Roko Karanusic/Lovro Zovko 6-3, 6-1, 6-3
  • Marin Cilic def. James Blake 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
  • Bob Bryan def. Roko Karanusic 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (dead rubber)

2005

In 2005, I was at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA for the First Round loss to Croatia, where Ivan Ljubicic owned Agassi, Roddick AND the Bryans. It was a crazy display of dominance from the hard-working Croatian who now spends his days guiding Roger Federer through off-day practices. Croatia would go-on to win its only Davis Cup title that year, after this First-Round win:

  • Ivan Ljubicic def. Andre Agassi 6-3, 7-6, 6-3
  • Andy Roddick def. Mario Ancic 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
  • Mario Ancic/Ivan Ljubicic def. Bob/Mike Bryan 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
  • Ivan Ljubicic def. Andy Roddick 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-7, 6-2
  • Bob Bryan def. Roko Karanusic 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 (dead rubber)

2003

The two teams first met in Zagreb for a Round-1 battle back in 2003. Again – Ivan Ljubicic was the spoiler:

  • Ivan Ljubicic def. Mardy Fish 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
  • James Blake def. Mario Ancic 6-1, 6-2, 7-6
  • Goran Ivanisevic/Ivan Ljubicic def. James Blake/Mardy Fish 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
  • Ivan Ljubicic def. James Blake 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3
  • Mario Ancic def. Taylor Dent 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 (dead rubber)

“Oh and three,” say the stats.

“Welcome back to Portland,” chirps the city that in 2007 saw Team USA capture the Davis Cup Title for the first time since 1995.

Which has greater significance? We’ll know by Sunday.

Portland, Oregon.

I was last here nearly nine years ago…and it was an unforgettable weekend.

For three magical days in December 2007, Team USA packed Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the Rose Quarter and captured the Davis Cup title the first time in 12-years. Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan Brothers absolutely dominated the Russians in the Final. It was an overwhelmingly emotional accomplishment for American tennis.

Announcer Andy Taylor. Team USA. 2007 Davis Cup Champions

Announcer Andy Taylor. Team USA. 2007 Davis Cup Champions

My two favorite memories

First, during the official dinner on Sunday night, I got a chance to see a 22-year-old John Isner stumble through “the team speech” – a right-of-passage for rookie hitting partners with Team USA. Before John nervously took the stage, the rest of the team handed him a fist-full of words and ridiculous phrases printed on tiny slips of paper. His responsibility? To individually pull out each piece of paper during the speech and meaningly work the words and phrases into his presentation. It was brutally hysterical. John was brilliant. I just wish I had the brain capacity to remember some of the phrases he was forced to say.

Then there was the “Mardy Fish Moment” during the dinner. I wrote about this after interviewing Mardy on court at the 2015 US Open:

He’s pure class. I haven’t run into Mardy since 2007 when the US Davis Cup Team won the title in Portland, Oregon. At the time, Mardy wasn’t in the mix, but he was on the bench, selflessly supporting his buddies Bob, Mike, Andy and James. After the win, at the official dinner, the USTA brought me in to voice-over a few of the evening’s events and activities. I was tucked away in the back, but when Mardy heard my voice, he got up and sought me out. He formally introduced himself, saying he wanted to finally meet the man behind the voice he’d heard for years, rattling off his accomplishments before matches at the US Open and Davis Cup Ties.

Genuine, authentic and real – he and Patrick McEnroe then introduced me to the rest of the guys. I’ll never forget Mardy’s sincerity. His kindness. His appreciation. That moment stuck with me, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see him crack the top-10 and enjoy tremendous success on the court. There’s no doubt in my mind – as he blends his natural compassion with the raw and determined work-ethic he honed in chapter-1, Mardy Fish has a very rewarding future…as do many he will touch along the way. I’m grateful he had a chance to say “so long” on his own terms at this year’s Open.

The winner gets France or the Czech Republic

Should John, Jack and the Bryans pull-off the win, Team USA will again play hosts for the Davis Cup Semifinals – the week following the U.S. Open in September. Meanwhile, defending champs Great Britain and Serbia battle in Belgrade this weekend. Argentina and Italy face-off in Pesaro. The winners of those Ties will compete in the remaining Semifinal.