ANTWERP, BELGIUM: The underdogs had their day in Antwerp, with honours even after the opening two rubbers of this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off involving Belgium and Austria.
Rankings meant little as first Xavier Malisse and then Jurgen Melzer suffered surprise defeats, to Andreas Haider-Maurer and Steve Darcis respectively.
Tiredness may have been a factor for Melzer, who hot-footed it to Antwerp from New York (via Vienna), having scooped the men’s doubles title at the US Open last weekend.
For Malisse, weary limbs was not the issue, rather shattered confidence. He cut a forlorn figure in the post-match press conference, struggling to explain away his inability to even trouble the inexperienced Haider-Maurer in the day’s opening singles rubber.
World No. 21 Melzer then had the opportunity to extend Austria’s advantage, only for Darcis – a player ranked 72 places lower – to perform heroics in securing a precious point for the hosts.
Melzer saved five set points in the 12th game of the first set, but only delayed the first set going to Darcis, who raced through the tie-break. The first set took one hour and 20 minutes to complete.
Darcis had set points against him in game 12 of the second set. He saved them also, forcing another tie-break, only this time, Melzer prevailed. The match had been going just short of two-and-a-half hours.
Melzer broke Darcis in game three of third set. Was the tide turning? Nothing of the kind, for Darcis broke back in game eight. He broke again in game ten to claim the third set 6-4. Much heart-thumping and fist-pumping followed.
That momentum was carried into the fourth set, as Darcis held serve before breaking Melzer in game two. That break of serve proved enough, as Darcis levelled the tie at 1-1 with victory in three hours and 48 minutes, 76(3) 67(4) 64 63.
Darcis said: “It was a very tough match but I knew he was a little tired. We decided to fight for every point and it paid off.
“It’s a good win. Two more points are there to be taken, starting with the doubles on Saturday.”
As for Melzer, he commented: “I was here for three days to prepare after six weeks in the States but that’s not an excuse. Steve played a great game and you’ve got to give him credit.
“There will be criticism in the newspapers tomorrow but I gave my best and will try to do better on Sunday.”
Haider-Maurer scored an emphatic victory
Earlier, Haider-Maurer rarely put a foot wrong as he swept to a straight sets success over an out-of-sorts Xavier Malisse, 64, 64, 75.
Haider-Maurer is playing only his second-ever Davis Cup tie. His previous experience was a painful affair, with a heavy defeat to Dudi Sela in the opening rubber of their World Group play-off in Israel this time last year. He did not feature in the reverse singles.
Twelve months on, though, and Haider-Maurer was delighted to register a point for his nation, and in such emphatic fashion.
He told me: “I served very good and that was the key for my victory. I didn’t have much pressure but I was focused and I wanted to play aggressive which I did, so I’m very happy to have won.”
Malisse had an enforced lay-off following an early exit from the US Open. Without competitive tennis for more than two weeks, the Belgian No. 1 was caught cold. He certainly lacked a sharpness so acutely displayed by Haider-Maurer. The 24-year-old was more commanding, confident and clinical.
Both the first and second set were won in game ten, as the more aggressive Haider-Maurer broke the Malisse serve. Malisse gained a break in the third set. His advantage was temporary, as Haider-Maurer levelled immediately and then – despite taking a medical time-out for a known left knee problem – kicked on to secure a surprise win for the visitors.
Malisse had no excuses and admitted that his confidence is in tatters. He said: “It was just horrible. I couldn’t put balls in the court. All he had to do was make two or three shots and then I made mistakes.”
He added: “It’s been like this all summer but I practised good this week so thought that this may be the turning point. It’s really disappointing, not just for me but for the team.”
Malisse’s gloom will have been lifted somewhat by the display which followed, but with his confidence so low, does new captain Johan Van Herck look elsewhere for the opening reverse singles on Sunday? Malisse is due to meet Melzer. Both will have a point to prove.
- Follow this tie: Live Scores
Xavier Malisse (BEL) - 16/09/2011
Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) - 16/09/2011
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) 16/09/2011
Captain Gilbert Schaller (AUT) - 16/09/2011
Steve Darcis (BEL) - 16/09/2011
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 16/09/2011