ROQUEBRUNE CAP MARTIN, FRANCE: It was all up to American John Isner whether the US Davis Cup squad would go to sleep Friday night tied with France 1-1 or be behind by two matches at their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie.
Isner, quickly moving in the direction of being declared the best American player in the game at the moment, came through with flying colours. As the day got chillier, the skies got cloudier and even a few drops of rain could be felt at the Monte Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune Cap Martin. But the World No. 11 Isner capably made quick work of his match against No. 13 Gilles Simon to produce a 63 62 75 to even the score with France.
It was a must-win situation for Isner, who followed 19-year-old compatriot Ryan Harrison’s debut in his first live match that started the day. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, not playing in his best form, used his experience to deliver a 75 62 26 62 first-time defeat to the promising Harrison, which initially enabled the French to go ahead 1-0.
Some were surprised to see Isner play so well on the red clay. After all, at 6-foot-9 with a supersonic serve and forceful forehand many think he’s a fast court guy. But Isner wasn’t surprised nor were those who know him well. In actuality, he is not the quickest guy on court so a slower surface suits him just fine.
“I took the court very confident,” Isner said. “To me no matter who I was going to play today, I was going to feel confident no matter what. So that was the case today. I went out there and I played very well, simple as that. I was very happy with how I played and I am happy that I was able to help the team out.”
Simon was only able to test Isner in the third set. But at 5-5, Isner took advantage of an opportunity to break serve. He set up the break with a forehand crosscourt and followed with the most breathtaking of backhand passing shots. He then went on to end the match by holding serve at love.
“That was one of the crazier points I have won and to do it on such a big point,” said Isner, of his exciting final break point. “Essentially it was a match point. If I win that, I am able to serve for the match.”
While Isner faced five break points on his serve, Simon was never able to take advantage of any of those offerings. In contrast, Isner broke Simon’s serve four of eight times presented.
Isner’s now won all three matches he’s played against Simon, the last just a month ago at the Indian Wells tournament.
Tsonga took more chances and capitalised
In the opening match, Tsonga, 26, knew how to compensate for not playing top-quality tennis. At the important moments, he was the player on the court who took more chances and capitalised on more advantages in the match. The Frenchman ticked in 60 winners to only 24 for Harrison. He also pushed points more frequently by coming in, winning 33 of 44 points at the net as compared to 11 of 26 for Harrison.
“When you enter the court for the first time you spend a lot of energy,’ said the No. 6 Tsonga. “That’s why the first match is difficult so, maybe, my experience helped me. I’ve played many times now in Davis Cup so I’m used to it and he’s not.”
While Harrison showed his frustration on the court by slamming his racket to the ground after surrendering his serve in the fourth game of the second set on a double fault -- in all, he had 10 double faults in the three-hour match -- he was maturely reflective following the match. The rise of his temper, however, did receive a warning for racket abuse from umpire Enrique Molina.
“I had a lot of fun,” Harrison said. “I wanted to keep going. I was disappointed for it to end. It's a great experience to represent your country, playing in an environment where you're representing something greater than yourself. I loved it. It was a great experience.’
Both players offered the other 13 break point opportunities but Tsonga made the better of those chances, breaking serve on seven occasions while Harrison only broke serve four times. Three of Harrison’s breaks came in the third set he won.
Captain Jim Courier, however, believes that Harrison has the goods to make a strong showing in the game.
“I think he is an unpolished diamond,” Courier said. “There is a lot to work on to get better and he already is as good as he is. It is exciting for us, those of us who care about American tennis to see someone like Ryan who is willing to put the effort in. (He) is going get better and better and we are going to potentially need him on Sunday. So he is going to have to get better soon.”
So here’s the rundown on how both teams have dealt with being 1-1 after the opening day of a tie in the past.
The French have a 45-44 win-loss record in this situation.
The US are 55-25 when standing at 1-1, but are 30-48 when they lose the first rubber of a tie. Obviously, they’re hoping the 1-1 stat takes precedent over the first match loss record.
Now the tie turns to the hands of the accomplished doubles players. Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 1 team in the world, take on Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.
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Captain Guy Forget (FRA) - 06/04/2012
Gilles Simon (FRA) - 06/04/2012
Captain Jim Courier (USA) - 06/04/2012
John Isner (USA) - 06/04/2012
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) - 06/04/2012
Ryan Harrison (USA) - 06/04/2012