EUROPE/AFRICA ZONE GROUP I: Switzerland are one win away from advancing to the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs in September. The Swiss team, captained by Severin Luthi, have taken a commanding lead against Portugal at the Postfinance Arena in Bern thanks to the victories of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Wawrinka gave the Swiss the lead by beating Frederico Gil in close to two hours 75 63 64. The Swiss No. 2 didn't show an outstanding performance but thanks to his very efficient service, he was able to stay out of bigger trouble.
Wawrinka sealed the first set with a successful slice return and then got the break in the eighth game of the second courtesy of two successive winners with his trademark backhand. Gil, a quarterfinalist at Monte Carlo in April, then had his only three break chances, which the Swiss staved off with strong serves.
For Wawrinka it was the 12th win in his 21st singles match for Switzerland. "I made mistakes but I was able to keep the tactics which I had chosen,” he said, "my service was the key to the match."
Most of the 8,000 spectators in the home arena of the SC Bern ice hockey team had made the trip to the capital to see Federer, who defended the Swiss colours for the first time since September 2009, in Genova against Italy.
Nine days after his surprising quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer was far away from his best level and struggled against clay court specialist Rui Machado.
Machado served well and got plenty of points with his forehand and on the other side, Federer often was a step too late. This combination resulted in the Portuguese player winning the first set 75 and making Federer lose only his second set in Davis Cup singles action since the 2003 semifinal against Lleyton Hewitt in Melbourne.
Encouraged by the supporters, who transformed the arena into a sea of red, Federer then came back, winning the remaining three sets 63 64 62, mostly relying on his service and still not convincing from the baseline, in the end he had 48 unforced errors.
Machado left the court with some regrets as he was unable to capitalise on plenty of chances. In the third set, he couldn't seize any of six break points, while Federer managed to break with his only chance. "In practise, I didn't have any problems but now I was surprised how difficult it was to control the ball. Overall, it's still a marvellous start for us into the weekend,” Federer said.
In Potchefstroom, South Africa, the Netherlands chances of beating the hosts for the first time since 1920 and after six consecutive losses are still intact. The first day in the altitude ended with two wins of the respective No. 1 players.
Robin Haase gave the visitors the expected first point by beating Rik De Voest in almost three hours 67(5) 63 60 64. The Dutch leader, hero in the first round win against Ukraine in Charkiv, sealed the win with a service winner and an ace. With the victory, Haase continued to improve his impressive Davis Cup record, having now won 11 of 15 singles rubbers for his country.
The result could even have been clearer as Haase was the better player from the word "go" but was unable to grab a clear lead. De Voest then took the first set in a tiebreak and gave a moment of hope to the home fans.
In the second singles, left-hander Thomas Schoorel didn't show any nerves against Kevin Anderson in his first-ever Davis Cup match, and took the first set in a tiebreak. He played very well but was unable to break Anderson throughout the match.
The favourite, Anderson, who hadn't played for his country since 2008, served 22 aces and lots of other service winners, including one at Schoorel's set point at 5-4 in the third. After that, the South African was the clear boss on the court.
Schoorel had mixed emotions after his promising debut. "Although I played well, I’m disappointed with the result. I had my chances to create an upset, but I couldn't convert them,” he said.
In Arzachena, Olbia, hosts Italy twice overcame a bad start to take a 2-0 lead over Slovenia. Fabio Fognini rallied to beat Grega Zemlja 16 64 64 64 and Potito Starace triumphed 36 63 62 64 over Blaz Kavcic.
Despite being ranked 101 positions better than his opponent, Fognini had to dig deep to give Italy the lead in extremely hot temperatures. "I didn't play my best but the most important was to win the point,” he said, "mentally I always hung in there and my level of play will rise the more I play."
Fognini hadn't played competitive tennis since beating Albert Montanes in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, 11-9 in the fifth set, before defaulting to Novak Djokovic after severe cramps.
And the lack of match practise showed, Zemlja took the first set in under half an hour after a myriad of errors from Fognini. The Slovenian helped his opponent with two double faults early in the second set give away a crucial break, which the Italian then kept until the end of the set and then never looked back.
Starace proved once again to be Italy’s ‘Mister Davis Cup’ in the second rubber. The baseline specialist didn't panic after his bad start and came back in style. From the second set on, Starace was in charge of play and also convinced with his serve; rather uncharacteristically for him, he finished the second set with two straight aces.
Midway through the match, he also dominated on the physical side and after almost three hours could celebrate his 14th singles win in 15 appearances. The only player who has managed to beat Starace in Davis Cup was a certain Roger Federer, in September 2009 in Genova.