VIENNA, AUSTRIA: Austrian hopes, which were flying so high at the start of the day, crash landed at Vienna airport when France took an emphatic 2-0 lead to leave the Austrians still stuck at the world group check-in desk.
While Gilles Simon’s 60 62 63 win over Stefan Koubek was hardly unexpected, the hammer blow for the Austrians was delivered by Jeremy Chardy, the man who would never have dreamed of playing Davis Cup for the nine-times champions if it hadn’t been for the French suffering three top-level withdrawals – and even then the 55th-ranked Chardy was a surprise selection as he hadn’t won a singles match since October.
But playing go-for-broke aggressive tennis from the first point to the last, he stunned Melzer and the Austrian crowd to effectively decide this tie after just two hours and 23 minutes of play.
"It’s amazing for me, I played unbelievable," Chardy said, scarcely believing the quality of performance he had put in. "My tactics were to just play offensive, try to make a good serve and then play with my forehand and go full on every shot."
It was a remarkable performance, which clearly took Melzer by surprise and resulted in a 75 64 75 win. Everyone expected the world No. 10 to get into the match after a slow start, but once he found himself a break down midway through the second set, it was suddenly a major uphill battle.
And yet Melzer had his chances. He broke Chardy when the Frenchman served for the second set at 5-3, only to lose his serve in the next game. And he broke at the start of the third, but again double-faulted his advantage away in the next game.
Melzer was generous in defeat but still trying to make sense of the result when he said, "I think he played a great match. He was taking the game away from me, he was serving well and playing aggressively with his forehand, and I was never in charge of play out there. It’s not my biggest strength if I have to react all the time and play from the back, but you have to give him credit for serving big and keeping his nerves together – of course I didn’t play my best match, but he played a good one."
It’s a remarkable turnaround for Chardy, who was at his wits’ end after losing early at the Australian Open and even on Thursday was talking down his chances. But his captain Guy Forget had a long chat with him before the match against Melzer as the two men worked out the right mental and tactical strategy. "I told him just to look at it as a great opportunity."
Forget said: "I said you’ve been playing tennis all your life to experience a moment like this – it’s there. The guy’s a great player, but if you play your best tennis you can give him a lot of trouble. Just think you’re lucky, just enjoy the match and go for your shots, and if they go in, you could have a big surprise. And that’s exactly what happened."
Chardy’s win killed the atmosphere in the airport hangar that houses the temporary 6000-seater stadium built for this tie, and Koubek seemed to suffer from the start against Simon. The Austrian, ranked 206, was thought only to have a chance if Melzer had already won, but with Austria one-down, it took Koubek until the 10th game to get onto the scoreboard.
Simon not only played very well, he looked in a different league in his movement around the court, and the five games Koubek won were all hard-fought.
For Austria to take the tie into a live singles on Sunday, Melzer will have to pick up his level considerably in the doubles, where he’s expected to partner Oliver Marach against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.
Although Melzer is the reigning Wimbledon doubles champion (with Philipp Petzschner), he and Marach have never played together, so it will be something of a surprise if the French have not collected their luggage – at least metaphorically – by early evening on Saturday.
Guy Forget (FRA) - 04/03/2011
Stefan Koubek (AUT) - 04/03/2011
Captain Gilbert Schaller (AUT) - 04/03/2011
Gilles Simon (FRA) - 04/03/2011
Jeremy Chardy (FRA) - 04/03/2011
Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 04/03/2011