VIENNA, AUSTRIA: It had looked set to land inconspicuously on the runway, but this tie has been ordered to keep circling around Vienna airport.
On the afternoon expected to be France’s victory procession, Austria finally came good, as Oliver Marach and Jurgen Melzer beat Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra 64 36 63 64 to breathe life into the aircraft hangar staging this tie.
Momentum so often plays a role in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, and there was no question it was with the French after two straight-sets wins on the opening day. But the home nation’s first-time pair battled against the greater experience – at least in Davis Cup terms – of their opponents, and ensured this tie is live on the final day.
The French have played better doubles than this, and while Llodra was broken more often than Benneteau, it was Benneteau who never did himself justice, both in his returns and his net game.
By the end of the match, Melzer was looking like the Wimbledon doubles champion he is. After being ambushed by the aggressive game of Jeremy Chardy in Friday’s opening singles, he gradually found his footing as the match wore on, and if he can fly on all four engines against Gilles Simon in the first of Sunday’s rubbers, this tie may yet go down to the wire.
This victory stemmed from a major gamble Austria took in choosing Marach ahead of the vastly more experienced Julian Knowle. Melzer had partnered Knowle 14 times in Davis Cup doubles and never played a competitive match with Marach.
More than that, Marach has a very different doubles style to Melzer, playing most of his tennis from the back of the court while Melzer’s natural instinct is the more traditional way of going forward at every opportunity.
It meant the Austrians developed a heavily tactical approach, making frequent use of the I-formation when serving, and many points were played with Melzer, Llodra and Benneteau at the net and Marach camping on his baseline.
The strategy worked well for the Austrians in the first set. They broke Benneteau in the seventh game, and survived a break back point at 5-4 before serving out the set.
But their tactics were always dependent on constant variety, and in the second set, the more solid, net-rushing play of the French pair began to take over. The French broke Melzer in the fourth game, and that was enough to level the match at a set all.
The aircraft hangar went wild when Llodra was broken for the first time for Austria to lead 2-1, but Melzer – still struggling to get into the weekend, let alone the match – played a mediocre service game and the French were back on serve at 1-2.
Llodra was again broken for the Austrians to lead 4-2, and this time Melzer held, Marach serving out the set two games later.
Llodra was broken for the third successive service game at the start of the fourth as Austria landed some penetrating returns at the feet of the French, and Benneteau failed to put some balls away at the net.
The French had three break points to get back to 3-3 but Austria came back from 0-40 to hold Marach’s serve. And the French had another break point at 3-4 but Melzer’s serve held firm. Fittingly, it was a combination – a serve wide from Marach and a put-away volley from Melzer – which won the match for Austria and ensures the hangar sees a third day of live tennis.
The first match on Sunday will see Melzer play Simon. If Melzer wins, both captains have choices for the fifth rubber, with Chardy, Llodra, Marach and Stefan Koubek all in with a chance of playing.
Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra (FRA) - 05/03/2011
Captain Guy Forget (FRA) - 05/03/2011
Oliver Marach and Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - 05/03/2011