Santiago Giraldo lifted Colombia's spirits after they endured a three hour, 59 minute heartbreak with Alejandro Falla losing in five sets to Mardy Fish. Giraldo gave the home side a point by defeating Sam Querrey in straight sets 62 64 75, leveling the tie at 1-1.
From the beginning Giraldo played like a man possessed, chopping down the big serving American in just 95 minutes. Everything he hit seemed to fall inside the red clay court lines. He played so well that it would not have been a surprise if manna fell from the heavens at Giraldo’s command.
Breaking serve twice in the first set, the Colombian’s excellent returning was his main weapon today.
“I think that my return is the strongest part of my game,” admits Giraldo. “I have been working hard on my returns for this tie. I am very happy with how I played today. I never gave many chances to Sam.”
“I think that there was a letdown after Falla lost,” says Gabriel Sierra, President of the Colombian Tennis Federation. “But Santiago got them back up again by playing with a lot of energy and commitment from the first point of the match.”
With Giraldo buzzing around the court like an angry hornet stinging his American rival with dazzling backhands and clutch forehands, Querrey stuck to his tactics of quick pressure. Querrey chipped, charged and threw in a dozen drop shots to keep Giraldo from getting a rhythm.
With his big gun misfiring, only 48% first serves going in, Querrey attacked the returns of Giraldo like a man with a plane to catch, rushing the net on every opportunity. It took awhile for the quick pressure to take hold, but late in the third set Querrey gave himself three sets points off of Giraldo’s serve.
“Credit to him for saving those set points in the third,” said Querrey. “He made big first serves and struck some big forehands.”
“The tactics for Sam were to try and keep the ball in the court,” says USA Captain Patrick McEnroe. “Sam never really got comfortable from the baseline today. And Giraldo came out firing and kept the momentum going.”
Fish defeated Falla in five sets
With seven breaks of serve in the first set, it looked as if neither Fish nor Falla could hold a loaf of bread without dropping it. There were more errors than winners and a combination of pressure-less balls and tight hands contributed to a mountain of unforced errors on both sides. Tied at three games each, Fish dropped serve for the third time and sent his racket flying and team USA’s personal stringer scrambling to get the racket’s tension right. Finally, it was Falla who managed to hold his nerve and serve and it was Colombia who took the first set 64.
“It was a problem to get used to the alititude,” explained Fish. “And also it was a bit nerves. I was just trying to do anything for a win.”
On a bright sunny day, the Plaza de Toros in Bogota was draped in the tricolor of the Colombian flag; yellow, red and blue. Even the potted carnations that ringed the court were red and yellow. The crowd sang chants of “Vamos Alejo.Vamos Alejo. Vamos Alejo.”
The second set seemed to be one-way traffic with Fish in the driver’s seat. Gone was the tentative stroking of the first set, now he was on fire and displaying some hard-core ball smacking that gave him the second set 61.
“I was really happy with his (Fish) effort today,” says McEnroe. “There were a lot of ups and downs and Mardy’s mental toughness was the key. He had a lot of opportunities that he did not convert, but he hung in there and found a way to win.”
The third set was on serve until Christmas came early for Fish at four games all. That is when Falla gifted him three doubles faults and the deadly break. Fish had to work hard but managed to serve out the third set, giving the Americans a two sets to one lead.
In the fourth set, the Colombian put the bit in his mouth and clenched his teeth, grinding away at the baseline, winning 63 and leveling the match at two sets all.
The match momentum appeared to swing in Falla’s favor, with the Colombian going on the attack while Fish went to the towel, lungs heaving, after every point. However, in the end it was Fish who won the set and the fifth set 64 giving Team USA its’ first point.
“I didn’t care if I play defense or offense,” claims Fish. “I was just trying to get a win for the team.”