HAMBURG, GERMANY: This Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off between Germany and Australia was widely predicted to be a tight battle, and so it proved on the opening day of the tie at the Rothenbaum Stadium in Hamburg, the day ending with honours shared at one point each.
Earlier in the day, the Australian team’s No. 1 player, Bernard Tomic, had put his nation into the lead in the tie with a 26 63 64 76(4) victory over German counterpart, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.
The 21-year-old Stebe, playing the first Davis Cup live rubber of his career, got off to a good start in cool conditions, breaking the Australian twice to win the first set comfortably, 6-2.
The next two sets, however, went 6-3, 6-4 the way of the tall Australian, who overcame some early shakiness to find stability and a solid grip on the match at 2-1 up.
Early in the fourth set, Stebe rediscovered some of the confidence and touch that had won him the first set, and quickly moved to 3-0. He then struggled to hold serve, a dilemma afflicting both players throughout the set - by the time it reached a tiebreak, the Australian and the German were guilty of being broken three times each.
“It was very heavy and very difficult to get free points on your serve,” Tomic said of the clay surface. “So, it was going to get into a battle of who returned better.”
In the end, it was the 19-year-old Aussie, winning the tie-break 7-4, and taking the match three hours and seventeen minutes after it began.
The second rubber of the day saw the home team’s number one player, Florian Mayer, take on Australia’s greatest ever Davis Cup servant, Lleyton Hewitt, playing his 33rd tie.
The 28-year-old Mayer had lost his previous two Davis Cup singles rubbers at home against Argentina in February, and was clearly coming into this tie with something to prove.
His poor form in the competition looked to continue when, after an evenly contested opening stanza, he found himself down 4-5, with Hewitt serving for the first set. The German, however, came back strongly, winning the next three games and taking the set 7-5.
If he played well in the first set, Mayer played ever better in the second, hitting deep into the corners and keeping Hewitt firmly lodged behind the baseline. His backhand stood out on a couple of obvious occasions, stroking two superb drives down the line for winners as well as playing glorious drop shot in the last game of the second set. He eventually won the game and the set 6-3 to go two up in the tie.
Hewitt then started the third strongly, quickly moving to 40-love in his opening service game. If he had thoughts of closing it out, Mayer was soon to set him straight, bringing the game back to deuce with some strong shots, including a lovely forehand that curled in down the line, before eventually breaking the Australian.
By the end of the third set Mayer, ranked No. 25 in the world, appeared to be cruising, making only five unforced errors in the whole set and winning it comfortably 6-2. It was Hewitt’s first straight sets loss in Davis Cup tennis in seven years.
After the match, Mayer’s captain, Patrik Kuhnen was full of praise for his number one: “I think that Florian just played a perfect match today.”
The German captain also reflected that 1-1 in the tie was not a bad result. It was a sentiment shared by Australian captain Pat Rafter, who noted wryly: “It could have been worse, it could have been zero to two.”
He went on to add that his boys were in with a good chance to win the tie. Kuhnen will go to bed tonight believing the same thing.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Florian Mayer (GER) - 14/09/2012
Captain Patrik Kuhnen (GER) - 14/09/2012
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (GER) - 14/09/12
Bernard Tomic (AUS) - 14/09/12