Give yourself a pat on the back if you thought it would be the USA and not Switzerland going to sleep with 2-0 lead Friday night after first day play in Davis Cup. Incredibly, That is what has happened. On a stunning day of results in Fribourg, team USA leads heavy home favorites Switzerland 2-0 after Mardy Fish beat Stan Wawrinka in five sets and then in the real shocker John Isner rocked Roger Federer in four.
First, let me start with Fish. Credit to Mardy who’s had more than his (un)fair share of heartache and tough defeats in Davis Cup. But today he came up big despite going down 2-1 in sets, and blowing an initial attempt to serve for the match at 5-4 in the fifth.
And for Wawrinka, what a complete gag. Actually, both guys were choking mightily near the end, but it was Fish who managed to hold it together just enough for a 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 9-7 win in four hours, 26 minutes.
As a guy who plays well on claycourts, Wawrinka cannot let a 2-1 set lead slip away on his home soil. And not against Mardy who inexplicably lost to Alejandro Falla at the Australian Open just few weeks ago.
Most importantly, though, the loss really set the tone for the main event: Federer v. Isner.
With the US up 1-0 the pressure shifted entirely onto the shoulders of Federer, and it freed up the dangerous Isner who knew he could let loose without much consequence. And that’s what happened.
After dropping the opening set Isner got his serve into rhythm and really started going for his groundstrokes. It paid off as the American took the second to even. But, like most watching, I just assumed Federer would get back into gear and take care of business. Except it never happened. Isner wouldn’t let it.
The 6-foot-10 Isner continued to hammer his serve, crush groundstrokes and on the uneven bouncing clay Federer never could regain any form.
Isner took the third in a breaker as Federer missed a sitter pass at 4-4. Then John fought out of a crucial 0-40 hole at 2-2 in the fourth to all but break Federer spirits. And that was it. Isner takes it 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2. What a time first his first career Davis Cup live rubber win. What an effort from Big John.
“It’s one of the greatest wins of my life, no that’s wrong, it’s the greatest win of my life,” said Isner.
“I really owe a lot to Captain Courier,” he said. “He was on me in practice all week, told me to do all the right things, every single practice, hit all the right shots. I’m going to make mistakes, that’s how I play, but the way I played today, that’s how I need to play in all my matches.”
For Federer, who had won his last 15 Davis Cup matches, losing in front of his home crowd – despite the altitude and poor court conditions – had to have been crushing. Isner’s certainly a tricky player – ask Rafael Nadal who was down 2-1 in sets to him at the French last year – but on your home soil and on clay Federer has to win that one.
“It’s a tough loss because we are down 2-0,” Federer said. “We are not down and out so we’ll keep playing tomorrow and hopefully Sunday.”
“Let’s not forget how John Isner plays, there’s not much rallies from the baseline. So considering all of that. I think I actually did play a pretty good match,” Federer said. “Things didn’t go my way and they didn’t go for Sam either, he didn’t have a good match, I agree with that. But I think we’ll pick each up like we did at the Olympics and hopefully player a really good match on Saturday.”
Awaiting tomorrow for the likely Federer-Wawrinka tandem will be a winnable match against Mike Bryan and perhaps Fish, who I think will sub-in for the unproven Ryan Harrison.
Does Captain Courier go for the outright tie win in the doubles by putting in Mardy and/or John, or virtually concede and save his two singles stars for Sunday battle?
If Switzerland can get through Saturday, which I think they will, Federer should beat Fish on Sunday setting up that Isner-Wawrinka gut-check in the fifth. And with how jittery Stan was today while Isner was swinging so freely, that should be a heck of match, if we get there – and that’s a big IF pending how disgruntled Federer is with the playing conditions, etc (lord knows).
Still, a big congrats to Team USA for stealing two in Switzerland and putting up one of the biggest days of tennis America has ever had on a clay court. What a start to the Davis Cup!
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