If one thing can be said about this Davis Cup weekend, it’s that it will be hard to forget. For the first time since 2005, the four quarter-finals in the World Group have been decided on Sunday. Although the suspense wasn’t great in two of the ties on deciding day, the two others seemed, at first sight, more open and tighter, although they were not necessarily so.
Here’s a little weekend recap, in two parts.
Spain 4, Austria 1
Coming into this tie, we knew that it was almost mission impossible for Austria to defeat Spain, at home, on clay. And it was, although the Austrians fought valiantly throughout all the weekend. Friday, Nicolás Almagro opened the tie, facing Jürgen Melzer in what I thought would be a tight and difficult match.
I could not have been more wrong, as Almagro sailed to a resounding 6-2 6-2 6-4 win to give Spain the first point of the tie. Less than two hours later, David Ferrer did the same, disposing of Andreas Haider-Maurer 6-1 6-3 6-1. Both Spaniards played inspired tennis to get their country to a 2-0 lead on the opening Friday.
Most of us thought that the Spanish doubles team of Marcel Granollers and Marc López would seal the deal on Saturday. However, we learned on Friday that it was possible that López would have to give his place to another member of the team, as he had suffered a contracture the day before. Finally, treatments and injections did their work and he was able to play.
López and Granollers were soon to meet great opposition from the Austrians, as Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya played a great match, which gave us one of the best doubles rubbers of the weekend. The two teams fought for 3:39, including one of the best tiebreaks of the season. In the end, Marach and Peya kept the hopes of Austria alive by winning 3-6 6-4 6-4 7-6(12).
It was up to David Ferrer to seal the deal, and even in a semi-bad day, he was able to take the measure of Jürgen Melzer, who really tried his best but couldn’t do anything even against a little off World no 5. Ferrer clinched the tie for Spain with a 7-5 6-3 6-3 victory.
Nicolás Almagro, with a 7-5 7-5 win over Alexander Peya, confirmed Spain’s 4-1 victory over Austria, and finished a 23rd consecutive home win for his country. Spain’s home dominance was again very obvious throughout the weekend, despite a good fight from visiting Austria.
France 2, United States 3
After defeating Switzerland at home in February, a Swiss team that included Roger Federer, thus causing the greatest surprise of the first round, I thought possible for the United States to continue their Cinderella run against France, again on clay, but this time outdoors at the Monte Carlo Country Club, stage of the upcoming first clay-court Masters 1000 of the season next week.
After all, even though deprived of World no 9 Mardy Fish (exhaustion), who is not a good clay-courter himself, the United States faced a French team itself deprived of its best clay-courter, Gaël Monfils, who was suffering from an injury and had to withdraw a few days before the start of the tie. France’s second-best clay court player, Richard Gasquet, could not fill in, himself suffering from elbow issues.
The table was thus set for what could have been a tight and dramatic tie, likely able to go to the limit. After all, could John Isner repeat the miracle of the first round?
He actually did. But before that, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Ryan Harrison in a match that was more disputed than score indicates, 7-5 6-2 2-6 6-2. The 19-year-old really put up a great fight, even managing to take a set off the World no 6, but in the end, it was Tsonga who prevailed, giving France the lead in the tie, a lead they would soon lose never to retrieve.
As then came John Isner, who quickly dispatched Gilles Simon, 6-3 6-2 7-5. In the first two sets, Simon did not play his best tennis, but was also vastly outplayed by an inspired Isner, and even though the Frenchman got back to his ever-fighting self in the third, it was not enough against this new and improved version of Isner. The tie was evened out at 1-all and the doubles would, in this tie as in all but Spain’s, prove pivotal for both teams.
Who better than Bob and Mike Bryan, undefeated team on the road in Davis Cup, with only two Davis Cup losses to their credit, to play this determining rubber! The twins faced the experienced Julien Benneteau and Michaël Llodra, but they are not the best doubles team in the world for nothing. Serving great and making very few errors (they were only credited for six unforced errors for the whole match), the Bryans needed only one break in each of the first two sets and never conceded a break point in a 6-4 6-4 7-6(4) win, which gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead.
Again, the tie rested, on the U.S. side, on John Isner‘s racquet. This time, however, the task seemed a little tougher, as he was facing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. However, Isner is the man who defeated Roger Federer on clay in a pivotal rubber in February, and defeated World no 1 Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells to reach his first Masters 1000 final. Moreover, Isner seems to feel quite comfortable on clay, which is not Tsonga’s case.
John Isner showed just that. Impeccable at the service line except for a little wobble in the third set, erasing break points either with his choice weapon or clever play, he played the hero again, clinching the U.S.’s place in the semi-finals with a 6-3 7-6(4) 5-7 6-3 triumph, his third over a top 10 opponent this season.
France’s tactical choice, like Switzerland’s in the previous tie, had turned against them, and in quarter-finals ends the 14-year reign of Guy Forget at the head of the French Davis Cup team, as Forget had announced at the end of last year that 2012 was his last year as Davis Cup captain, he who is the new director of the Paris-Bercy Masters 1000.
The irony of this reign-end is that the player he slighted more often than not, Gilles Simon, is the one who gave him his last win as captain, a 6-2 6-3 dead rubber win over Ryan Harrison.
The United States will, again, play as visitors in the semi-finals, as they will go and meet Spain on their turf in September. Can they cause another huge surprise?
To be continued…
… with the last two quarter-finals, Argentina vs Croatia and Czech Republic vs Serbia.