HAMBURG, GERMANY: Germany have retained their place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group after dominant displays by Florian Mayer and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe over Australian counterparts Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt respectively, at the Rothenbaum Stadium in Hamburg.
In glorious sunshine and in front of four and a half thousand vocal home fans, the German team’s number one and number two players dispatched their opposite numbers in straight sets, Mayer winning 64 62 63 and Stebe with a similarly emphatic 64 61 64.
Mayer, in superb form on Friday against Hewitt, was imperious today, serving strongly and showing excellent ball control, both from the back of the court and close to the net. Tomic, on the other hand, appeared curiously leaden-footed as shots flashed past him on the baseline or dropped and spun beyond his reach. The 19-year-old was never allowed to get into the match by the clay court specialist Mayer and just over 90 minutes after it began, it was over.
And so it came down to the final rubber to decide the tie. The 21-year-old Stebe, playing in his debut Davis Cup season and only his second live rubber, was up against Lleyton Hewitt, in his record-setting 33rd tie for his country and fresh off a strong win with doubles partner Chris Guccione on Saturday.
Early in the day there had been speculation that Philipp Petzschner, who had played well in his team’s doubles defeat the previous day, would come in to replace Stebe, but swelling in the 28-year-old’s left knee ruled out any chance of that eventuating.
Early in the first set of the match, German fans might have been cursing the injury. The left-handed Stebe was broken in his first two service games and the feisty Hewitt was obviously relishing the chance to win the tie for his nation, moving around the court full of purpose and vigour.
It was not until the fifth game of the set that Stebe managed to hold serve. Fortunately he had been able to break Hewitt in the previous game, courtesy of a classy crosscourt backhand. Buoyed, and with the local crowd enthusiastically egging him on, he went on a storming run, winning nine of the next 10 games, taking the set 64 and establishing an unassailable 5-0 lead in the second.
At the other end of the court, the only success Hewitt was having was in finding the net and the set finished with only a solitary game to next to his name.
The third set was more of an even contest, but by then it was too late for Hewitt. Breaking the Australian in the eighth game of the set, Stebe only needed to hold his serve to win the tie for Germany. He duly did, taking the set 64, sending his team leaping to their feet in joy and eliciting a huge roar from the local fans.
Admitting that he had been suffering a case of the jitters coming into a match with so much riding on it, Stebe acknowledged the input of his team captain Patrik Kuhnen in helping steady those nerves. “Patrik was saying just to relax and do your thing and concentrate on the ball,” he said after the game. Simple, but patently sage advice.
This was third year in a row that Australia was playing a fifth and decisive World Group play-off rubber, having fallen at the final hurdle in 2010 and 2011 to Germany’s neighbours Belgium and Switzerland respectively. Once again, they were left ruing their chances.
“It’s another frustrating day,” said Hewitt after the match. “We have been in this position too many times and we did all the right things and prepared as well as we could have, things did just not go our way today.”
Despite being clearly disappointed by the result, Australian captain Pat Rafter was able to take some positives from the tie, saying that the team would learn from the experience and be the stronger for it.
The German captain Kuhnen, in his 10th year of leading Germany’s Davis Cup team, was understandably feeling far more upbeat, his controversial decision to leave current world No. 18 Philipp Kohlschreiber out of the team, after a falling out between the two, seemingly justified. “I’m very happy,” he said after the match, “we have a strong team spirit which is…the foundation of what we’ve seen today.”
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (GER) - 16/09/12
Captain Patrick Rafter (AUS) - 16/09/12
Captain Patrik Kuhnen (GER) - 16/09/12