That was not how it was planned to go. Mardy Fish was suppose to comeback and beat Feliciano Lopez, winning another Davis Cup five set thriller. Then Andy Roddick, the local hero and resident, was to put the hammer down on David Ferrer all but ensuring a weekend win for Team USA and a mighty celebration Sunday night in Austin.
Instead, like a hit to head with a two-by-four, Spain’s ahead 2-0. Even without Rafael Nadal, Spain’s “B” squad still got over on USA on Friday as Lopez simply outplayed Fish and Ferrer proved the better player against the slumping Roddick.
First to the Fish-Lopez match. Give the lefty Lopez a lot of credit (and for agreeing to do the post-match interview with Justin Gimelstob!). Lopez is not just a pretty boy anymore, he’s suddenly winning big matches and yesterday continued improved play beating Fish, who is also in-form.
However, Lopez, who stunned Roddick at Wimbledon, looked dead and gone when he dropped serve to start the fifth. With nerves piling up, Fish gave it right back, and from there we went on a tension-filled journey that finally ended with Lopez break Mardy in the 14th game to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 8-6 in just under four hours.
“When you are 6-all in the fifth set, anything can happen and anyone can win,” Lopez said. “I knew it would be a close match and that anyone can win.”
Said Fish of the fifth set, “Playing from ahead, with the crowd, that was the goal. It was a huge game, that 1-0 game, just to get my feet in front and feel like I was in front. I was up 40-15 in the game. That was the biggest game of the match, for sure.”
I thought both guys served exceptionally well – Fish had 40 aces, Lopez 34 – but off the ground their forehands were just awful at times. In the current age of dominant forehands, these two guys are the exceptions!
In the end, Lopez held it together a little bit better than Mardy in a pretty dead-even match.
Moving to Roddick. Even with Fish’s loss the stage was set for Roddick to orchestrate some hometown heroics. He wouldn’t let Team USA fall 0-2 in his backyard, would he?
Roddick come out blazing from the start against Ferrer. Looking like the 2003 version, Roddick was crushing his serve and going after his forehand. He secured a break and seemed to destined to take the first set, that is until he tried to serve it out at 5-4, 40-0.
Ferrer has long been known as one of the best returners in the game and the Spaniard dug deep to harness that skill, doing whatever it took to get the Roddick serves back. Why? Because a funny thing happened late in the first set, Roddick pulled the plug on his power game and in large part went back to his conservative, defensive playing style.
Instead of cracking winners and playing agressive on the slick, Austin hardcourt, Roddick essentially turned the match into a clay court affair. And against a guy like Ferrer, that’s not a good idea.
Still, Roddick had multiple chances to win the first set (six) and played tough, though reserved, off the ground in the breaker. And in a key moment just as the set was announced to Roddick, Spanish coach Albert Costa demanded a shotspot review on the final set point won by Roddick.
The review showed Ferrer’s ball stayed in, and back out to the court they went. Ferrer, who had conceded the set moments earlier, eventually won tiebreak.
After dropping a break in the second to go down 3-0, Ferrer came back to win 13 of the last 18 games to put a dispirited Roddick away 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-3 and give Spain a commanding 2-0 set lead.
“Obviously it is an uphill battle. We’re not going to be the favorites down 0-2. We’re not out of this,” Roddick said. “I don’t think Bob and Mike have lost to Verdasco and Lopez. We can still do this.”
As for Andy, this weekend could be the damaging lowpoint in his career.
“I have too much respect for Ferrer to act like I’m stunned,” Roddick said. “The guy is six in the world for a reason. He played well. I thought I played pretty well for the first two sets, but the third set got away from me a little bit… He beat me tonight.”
“I felt like I hit the ball pretty well. I just got to play better on those big points. He played them better than I did tonight.”
Roddick did serve big and hit the ball well, but in many of the baseline rallies Roddick’s shots have very little stick. Roddick’s his backhand had very little to offer yesterday besides that mediocre slice and on a fast court against a so-so server in Ferrer, there’s wasn’t much aggressive off the return of serve for Andy.
And in the big picture, Roddick just isn’t making any impression on the top players in tennis anymore. Murray thumped him at Queen’s in a mismatch. Lopez took him out quite comfortably at Wimbledon and now just miles from his house on a court designed to enhance his game he loses to Ferrer in straight sets.
The pattern isn’t a good one.
Fortunately for Roddick and the rest of the team there’s still a lot of tennis to played and pride to be salvaged. Later today, I expect the Bryans to get the US on the board by beating the Spaniards will likely have Fernando Verdasco partnering with either Lopez or Granollers.
On Sunday, Roddick will have a chance to make amends and play savior by defeating Lopez in the fifth rubber, and I give Andy the slight edge. Lopez is a very nervy player and I don’t think even he believes he can beat Roddick a second straight time, especially in Austin. Would Andy really lose it on his home court?
Of course the problem for the US is getting to that fifth rubber. In the first match Sunday Fish will have to beat Ferrer under extreme pressure. Ferrer will make Mardy and his faulty forehand hit a lot of balls and unless Fish’s serve is really humming it’s really hard to see the Americans getting through that one. Maybe Jim Courier could play?
“Obviously, we would prefer the score be reversed,” new coach Courier said. “We have a job to do the rest of the way. Bob and Mike will be ready to put us into Sunday tomorrow.”
In other Davis Cup action, with players needing matches to assure themselves a spot in the 2012 Olympics, there’s lots of star power on the courts this weekend.
Juan Martin Del Potro has already led Argentina into the semifinals by thumping Kazakhstan at home 3-0.
After dropping the first two sets of the tie, France won nine straight sets to knock out Germany. Gasquet did the honors overcoming a 2-0 set hole in the first rubber to beat Florian Mayer and pace the Frenchmen who will await the USA/Spain winner in the September semifinals.
And in Sweden, after sitting out Friday’s singles rubber to rest, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is on court this afternoon in the doubles trying to give Serbia the 3-0 sweep.
Also, Roger Federer and Andy Murray both helped their countries in the zonal competition. Federer dropped the opening set but beat Rui Machado in four to lead Switzerland to a 2-0 lead over visiting Portugal in Bern.
Murray had the easiest day among the top players posting a rare triple bagel over someone named Laurent Bram to level Britain with Luxembourg 1-1. The Murray brothers, Andy and Jamie, are in doubles today.
Tennis Channel has live USA-Spain doubles coverage just after airing the live Andre Agassi Hall of Fame induction at 12:30pm ET.
The 40-year-old Agassi did just about everything you could do in the sport. He won eight overall Slams including the career Slam. Agassi also won the Davis Cup, Olympic gold and reached No. 1. And heck, the guy married arguably the great female tennis player of all-time, Steffi Graf. Amazing.
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