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21 December 2012

Six of the best in 2012



  • Max Woodward

Photo: Corinne DubreuilJohn Isner (USA)

Amir Weintraub d. Go Soeda 63 76(5) 46 63Amir Weintraub (ISR)

This is not what many people would call a ‘glamour match’. It featured two players who would be known to Davis Cup fans, but not to the more casual tennis observer. However, with the Japan v Israel Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie level at 2-2, the two players faced off in a classic Davis Cup encounter.

Soeda was the home favourite. He had beaten the Israeli No. 1 in the first singles matches and was ranked 170 places higher than his Israeli opponent. Weintraub, however, believed that his ranking did not accurately reflect his ability and was determined to prove it. It was difficult to argue with the Israeli as he raced out of the blocks taking the first set easily and winning the second set tiebreak.

However, his legs started cramping in the third set and Soeda took his chances to pull a set back. At this point, Weintraub appeared to be in trouble, but he then received a helping hand from Mother Nature.

During the first game of the fourth set, it started to rain and the match was halted so that the roof could be closed. He was able to get some treatment for his leg and when he came back out he saved seven break points in that first game. That proved to be decisive and Weintraub went on to secure an historic win.

Mardy Fish d. Stanislas Wawrinka 62 46 46 61 97Mardy Fish (USA)

If you were to glance at the results from 2012, you would see that the USA beat Switzerland 5-0. You might think that the Americans had it easy but that would be far from the truth. In five matches, there wasn’t a single set won to love and the first three matches went to at least four sets.

However, the tie can be summed up in the first match. Mardy Fish, USA’s No. 1 player took on Switzerland’s No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka. Fish is no stranger to five-set matches when it comes to Davis Cup with four of his five previous matches going the distance but things looked good for him when he took the first set 6-2.

Wawrinka was not prepared to lie down though and he fought back, winning the next two sets 6-4, meaning that if Fish was going to win, he would have to go the distance once again. At 2-1 in the fourth set, Fish took his opportunity, breaking Wawrinka before holding serve and then breaking the Swiss again and serving the set out.

With neither player at their brilliant best, the final set was cagey but did not lack for excitement. The set ebbed and flowed before Fish finally broke Wawrinka in the 15th game of the set, it was all over and Fish served out the match.

John Isner d. Jo-Wilfried Tonga 63 76(4) 57 63John Isner (USA) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)

We could have put either of John Isner’s wins on this list but we chose the win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With the USA 2-1 up following wins from Isner and the Bryan brothers, Isner had the chance to seal the victory against Tsonga.

The French had cleverly chosen clay for the surface because it was widely considered to be the Americans’ weakest surface, but John Isner had an inspired season on clay courts and it continued into this match. With Gilles Simon likely to beat Ryan Harrison in the fifth rubber, the pressure was on Isner to earn the win that would see USA through to its first semifinal since 2008.

Isner is known for his big serve and he used it to great effect in the early stages, not losing a service game in the opening two sets. It wobbled a little at the end of the third set and Tsonga capitalised, breaking the American and serving out the set.

Isner, however, was not perturbed and he continued to fire down unreturnable serves and ended up taking the fourth set 6-3 and sent the Americans through. Overall, Isner served 16 aces in the match, saved six break points and hit 56 winners.

Nicolas Almagro d. John Isner 64 46 64 36 75Nicolas Almagro (ESP)

It doesn’t matter how good a season you’re having on clay, when you play against Spain, it is always a tough ask, but John Isner, having won against Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in previous rounds on clay went into this match full of confidence.

Nicolas Almagro had seen compatriot David Ferrer put Spain 1-0 up and knew that if he could get the win and Spain ended Friday 2-0 up, they would be clear favourites to win. What followed was one of the great Davis Cup matches.

Isner, despite his season, is predominantly a hard-court player with a booming serve whereas Almagro is a clay court specialist. The scene was set for a classic match and the players did not disappoint. Despite firing down a staggering 24 aces, Isner’s serve was not as dominant as it had been in previous ties and Almagro remained patient, setting up 19 break points.

However, even a misfiring Isner serve is still powerful and the big American saved 16 of those 19. That wasn’t enough to save Isner though and each set was decided by a single break.

Tomas Berdych d. Juan Monaco 61 46 16 64 64Juan Monaco (ARG) and Thomas Berdych (CZE)

Argentina had a perfect record at Parque Roca – they had never lost. But when they took on Czech Republic in this year’s semifinal, there was nervousness around the ground because Juan Martin del Potro was a serious doubt. Del Potro played on Day 1 and got Argentina off to the best possible start but he was virtually out of Day 3, meaning Argentina needed a miracle from second player Juan Monaco.

Things started badly – up against Tomas Berdych, Monaco lost the first set 6-1 and Argentina started to despair. But then there was a comeback. The pair exchanged breaks of serve at the start of the second set but Monaco prevailed, taking it 6-4.

Then, Monaco stepped up a gear and took the third set 6-1 and Argentina began to believe. The fourth set went much the same way as the third as Monaco raced into a 4-1 lead but then his game dropped a level.

This let Berdych back into the match and the Czech was ruthless. He won nine consecutive games, taking the fourth set and moving 4-0 up in the fifth. The match appeared to be over. But then, out of nowhere, Monaco fought back again. He broke back twice and was serving at 4-5 when disaster struck. His game collapsed and Berdych broke to love to take the final set 6-4 and level the tie. The Czechs went on to win 3-2.

Radek Stepanek d. Nicolas Almagro 64 76(0) 36 63Radek Stepanek (CZE)

Picture this: it’s the 100th Final of the Davis Cup, it’s in your home country, you’re being cheered on by 13,000 people, it’s tied at 2-2, you’ve already played two matches in two days, you have one more match and if you win it, you crown yourself in glory.

This is what Radek Stepanek faced when he took to the court against Nicolas Almagro in this year’s final. Going into the competition’s showpiece, Almagro had won all five of his matches in 2012. He lost in five sets to Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych on the first day and had a rest on Day 2 when Stepanek was in a gruelling four-set victory over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in the doubles, and Almagro is six years Stepanek’s junior.

But the court suited Stepanek’s game and he had the crowd behind him. In Davis Cup, the crowd makes funny things happen in matches like this. It started with a bang – both players faced break points in their opening service games – but they held serve and the match was even until the tenth game of the set when Almagro was too passive during a service game and Stepanek charged in to wrestle the first set.

Almagro fought back and broke the Stepanek serve early in the second set, but his overall play suited the Czech’s game perfectly and Stepanek was able to attack Almagro who sat on the baseline and Stepanek quickly recovered that break of serve, forcing a tiebreak. The tiebreak was totally one-way traffic and Stepanek took it 7-0 to move two sets up and just one set away from history.

Almagro was not going to give up that easily though. He rallied, and, with an improving serve combined with Stepanek looking a little more sluggish around the court, took the third set 6-3. That was as good as it got for Spain though and, when Stepanek broke Almagro’s serve early in the fourth set, the Czech found a second wind and even threw himself across the court at one point to retrieve a forehand, leaving him with a grazed knee and bloodied knuckles.

Stepanek’s first match point came at 5-2 up in the fourth set, alongside match points two and three, but Almagro saved all three, forcing Stepanek to attempt to serve the match out. The 33-year old Czech obliged, taking the fourth set 6-3 and, in doing so, handing the Czech Republic their first title since 1980.

Related content

Related ties

JPN Flag Japan v Israel ISR Flag 14 Sep 2012 - 16 Sep 2012 View details

SUI Flag Switzerland v USA USA Flag 10 Feb 2012 - 12 Feb 2012 View details

FRA Flag France v USA USA Flag 6 Apr 2012 - 8 Apr 2012 View details

ESP Flag Spain v USA USA Flag 14 Sep 2012 - 16 Sep 2012 View details

ARG Flag Argentina v Czech Republic CZE Flag 14 Sep 2012 - 16 Sep 2012 View details

CZE Flag Czech Republic v Spain ESP Flag 16 Nov 2012 - 18 Nov 2012 View details




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