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13 February 2012

Melzer smells Spanish blood



  • Clive White

Photo: GEPAJurgen Melzer (AUT)

WIENER, NEUSTADT: Austria have glimpsed a window of opportunity in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas history and they mean to scramble through it. Jurgen Melzer and company will still be underdogs when they face Spain, in Spain, almost certainly on clay, on 6-8 April, but without Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer the champions suddenly seem beatable.

That’s what the Austrians will be telling themselves constantly between now and the tie. Their victory over Russia – and perhaps, in particular, Andreas Haider-Maurer’s victory over a highly ranked player – has made Austria and more importantly Melzer believe they can finally go places. Furthermore, Melzer was much more like his old self against the Russians – his 2011 old self, when he rose to No. 8 in the world.

It’s been a heavy weight to carry for Melzer since he assumed the mantle of No. 1 in the Austrian team, but probably for the first time since Stefan Koubek’s Davis Cup career began to wind down five or six years ago he feels he has genuine support in the big man from Zwettl.

“That was the problem over the last [few] years, the main pressure was on my shoulders – which was still [the case] this week – but I knew that we have somebody who can win matches and he proved that which is very important for me and very important for him. Even today [Sunday] I knew that if I lose that match we have somebody who can win a Tour match.”

Of course, it would be asking a lot of Haider-Maurer to repeat his heroics of the opening day’s play against Russia, when he beat the world No. 34 Alex Bogomolov Jr, against the likes of Nicolas Almagro and Juan Carlos Ferrero on clay, but there is no doubt that mentally at least the burden now seems lighter on Melzer, who is very confident of beating the present best that Spain has to offer.

“If they play with singles players like Almagro and Ferrero, they’re for sure in my range, I can beat both of them, and we have a strong doubles and even Andreas,” he said. “If he’s confident it’s always tough to play him with his big serve.”

The probability is that Melzer will again need to come up with both points in the singles, as he did against Russia – but let us not forget he made the semifinals of the French Open in 2010, so he knows how to play on the red stuff – but it’s Austria’s doubles team which could be key.

Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya don’t need telling they should have won this tie for Austria inside two days. They were a little unfortunate in losing to Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko. They, too, know how to play on clay and won the doubles title in Hamburg last year. And only last month beat two Spanish pairings – Ferrer and Albert Montanes, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Fernando Verdasco – en route to winning the Heineken Open in Auckland.

“We’re not going there [to Spain] for holidays,” said Melzer, “we’re going there to compete and to win.”

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    Clive White

    Clive started writing about sport at the 1966 World Cup final, since when, he says, it’s been all downhill... for England if not necessarily himself. He joined The Times at 21 before moving to the Sunday Telegraph where he provided worldwide coverage of tennis and football. As ghost writer to John McEnroe for six years, Clive learned that sport, far from being a matter of life and death, was, in fact, much more serious than that.



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