GRONINGEN, NETHERLANDS: Thiemo de Bakker pulled off what he called one of the best wins of his career by beating Austrian No. 1 Jurgen Melzer in five tough sets 57 75 57 64 61 to put Netherlands 2-0 up in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie.
De Bakker fell down on the clay after converting his first match point, with Dutch captain Jan Siemerink joining him seconds later in the knowledge that a return to the World Group – after dropping out in 2009 – now seems all but certain.
The task for the Austrians has gone from tough to nigh impossible, certainly after their No. 2 Andreas Haider-Maurer fell ill on Thursday night and had to pull out of today’s opening rubber against Robin Haase. If the Austrians manage to take the tie to 2-all on Sunday, either Oliver Marach or Julian Knowle – neither of them serious singles players – will have to defeat an in-form Thiemo de Bakker in the fifth rubber, with the Austrians’ second and third choice singles players Haider-Maurer and Dominic Thiem either ill or absent. Their best hope is for Haider-Maurer, who fell ill on Thursday night, to have a quick recovery.
Siemerink was smiling from ear to ear after admitting that going into the tie he would have been happy for the score to be one-all on Friday night. “Thank you,” de Bakker, seated next to him, remarked ironically. But it’s not done yet, Siemerink said, even though Haider-Maurer will probably remain out and Melzer will feel the pain of Friday’s five sets if he plays in doubles.
“They have a Dutch physiotherapist in their team and he is a magician,” said Siemerink. “You never know what he can do.”
While de Bakker was left to cherish a big win, Melzer said he thought the match had been well within his reach. He was particularly left to rue a host of missed break points in the second set and even two set points at 5-4 up, which could have taken him two sets up. He then bounced back well to take the third set, in which both players showed their best tennis of the day.
“That was frustrating,’” de Bakker said. “Both in the first and third sets he broke me at 6-5 and I didn’t feel I could have done anything about it.”
De Bakker didn’t let his frustration show, however.
“I was unhappy with the score but not with my game,” he said. “I was playing well and that kept me going.”
And that, in turn, was what surprised Melzer a bit.
“I knew and know [de Bakker] is a talented player, but he has a tendency to be somewhat inconsistent, his play can be a bit rollercoaster-y. But not today, I don’t feel I screwed up on most big points. I didn’t lose the match, he won it.”
Two brilliant winning dropshots handed de Bakker three break points at 4-4 in the fourth set, the second of which he converted. In the fifth set, de Bakker and his newfound friend adrenaline went up two breaks and never looked back, breaking Melzer to record a memorable win and take his country to the verge of the World Group.
So would he consider it the biggest win of his career?
“I think the way it went, mentally, physically and the stage and the moment – yes.”
In Friday’s early rubber, Dutch No. 1 Robin Haase made light work of Oliver Marach, who hadn’t even been included in the original Austrian squad. On Sunday Marach was selected to replace doubles specialist Alexander Peya, who had to pull out of the tie with an injury. And at 8:15 in the morning – “I was just putting the jam on my bread” – the non-selected player learnt he’d be playing singles against Haase, because Haider-Maurer had fallen ill.
So there he was, playing his first competitive singles match in four years.
“After five games, I felt like I needed an ambulance,” Marach joked afterwards. “I had to run far, far too much.”
Marach never seriously thought he could win and Haase never seriously thought he could lose.
“He began strongly, but he was never going to keep up that intensity. After I got the first break, the match was basically over,” Haase said. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I soon realised that I couldn’t lose the match unless I’d get injured.”
That meant that Haase could try out (‘unsuccessfully’) some shots he’d been working on in training, while Marach decided not to run too much anymore in the third, so the slight pain in his upper left leg he started feeling in the second didn’t morph into an injury.
So Marach saved energy because he might have to play a final fifth rubber?
“I guess,” he laughed. “But I think in that case, I will die on court.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Clemens Trimmel (AUT) - 13/09/2013
Thiemo De Bakker (NED) - 13/09/2013
Captain Jan Siemerink (NED) - 13/09/2013
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 13/09/2013
Oliver Marach (AUT) - 13/09/2013
Robin Haase (NED) - 13/09/2013