“We’re good poker players,” said Thomas Enqvist, when pressed on revealing his doubles line-up for the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off against Italy.
To their opponents’ surprise the Swedish captain opted not to choose the world No. 5 Robin Soderling, but stuck with his designated pairing of Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin against Potito Starace and Simone Bolelli.
If few saw that one coming, fewer still saw a Swedish victory on the horizon with Italy two sets-to-love ahead. But pull it off they did to win 57 67(0) 76(4) 63 75 in four hours and 26 minutes, and in so doing may have won this tie for Sweden and preserved their World Group status for yet another year.
“The guys played really well the whole match,” said Enqvist, who would not admit to any misgivings about his decision to save Soderling for the singles after the first two sets. “I’m very proud of the guys, the way they just hung in there. In the end I thought they were the better team.”
It’s amazing how often doubles is the deciding factor in Davis Cup ties and this one was decided by the narrowest of margins. Had Italy been able to eke out just a few more points in that third-set tiebreak – when Lindstedt won a vital point on the Starace serve with an unorthodox winner off his toes – the outcome might have different.
Certainly Italy would then have been strongly fancied to win this tie because while a Soderling victory against Potito Starace in the first of Sunday’s reverse singles may be a given, another by Andreas Vinciguerra against the much higher-ranked Fabio Fognini would have been far from a certainty.
This was a gutsy victory by the Swedes because both players were constantly under pressure to hold serve. If anything they were too pumped up – Lindstedt was particularly intense. The Italians, on the other hand, played in a relaxed, carefree manner, which paid off in the first two sets.
Lindstedt, understandably, lost confidence for a while after three double faults enabled Italy to break back in the fifth game of the opening set. The Swedes felt they should still have won the set but with Lindstedt serving for it at 5-4 he was broken again, almost heartbreakingly so, after saving three break points.
The Swedes had three set points in the second set but couldn’t capitalize and when it eventually went to a tiebreak Italy ran away with it to love.
“We just felt if we could grab one set we would be in there,” said Aspelin. And that’s how it turned. Even so, Aspelin and Lindstedt had to dig deep to turn things around.
The fourth set saw them firmly in control. The fifth set, however, was more like Russian roulette than poker as both teams survived some harrowing moments before Starace, ironically the most reliable player on court, dropped serve in the 11th game by netting a forehand.
Both Aspelin and Bolelli had previously seen off three break points on their serve. Even in the final game when the former was serving for the match, Swedish hearts were firmly in their mouths as a service winner was incorrectly called out and a let had to be played.
Then, on match point, Lindstedt missed a relatively easy kill at the net. Moments later another easy chance presented itself and this time he finished with a backhand winner that was much more like the 2010 Wimbledon doubles finalist he is.