WIENER NEUSTADT, AUSTRIA: The Russian Bear is wounded but not out of it just yet in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie. At 3-0 up in the final set of the doubles Clemens Trimmel, Austria’s rookie captain, could almost taste the evening’s celebratory champagne.
Then the injured Mikhail Youzhny and out-of-form Nikolay Davydenko, operating as much by memory as anything, extricated themselves from a tricky situation to prove the old adage that two quality singles players, even when playing together for the first time, will usually beat a specialised doubles pairing, as they came back to win 76(1) 67(7) 75 36 64 against Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya.
That said Austria should have won and their two players knew it. It was a hard loss to take but 2-1 up in the tie they are still favourites to progress to the quarter-finals, where they haven’t progressed to in 17 years.
The Austrian pair were bitterly disappointed although it did seem the Russians had most of the luck going with regards net cords, in both the first set and third, when they had two in quick in succession at the climax to the set on Peya’s serve. “Now the singles guys have to do our job,” he said sadly.
The reverse singles are a fascinating prospect. Will Youzhny, nursing a shoulder injury so severe that even an amateur would have been disappointed with the speed of some of the first serves, be fit enough to play? Will Andreas Haider-Maurer, in his first tie on home soil, be able to replicate his stunning form of day one if it comes down to a fifth and final rubber? These are imponderables that can only be answered once play begins on day three.
If Austria can take one more point from this tie they will play the champions Spain away in the quarter-finals. That’s enough to make any nation rank outsiders, let alone the world No. 16. By happy coincidence it was Spain whom they played when they last reached that stage back in 1995. Jurgen Melzer may not yet have scaled the heights of Thomas Muster, the man who inspired them to that 4-1 win over the Spanish team of Albert Costa and Sergio Bruguera but he is just as important to Austria - maybe more so.
It’s hard to see Youzhny beating a fit and rested Melzer in the opening rubber on Sunday – that’s one of the boons of this new Austria since the emergence of Marach and Peya as a doubles team of some repute because it has meant that Melzer no longer has to play on all three days. Marach, however, warned of Youzhny’s innate qualities.
“Obviously his serve was not so fast but from the back he was making some unbelievable shots,” said Marach, “and also Nikolay – I know him very well – it was good doubles he played today, very aggressive and very fast.”
It soon became obvious why Shamil Tarpishev, the Russian captain, had left Youzhny, his No.1 player, out of the singles action on the opening day. Despite having won Zagreb Indoors only a week ago, he was serving well below his usual power, sometimes as little as 85 mph on his first serve, as he sort to protect an injury to his right shoulder. The Austrians had assumed it was a ruse, but no such thing.
Even so, the rest of his game held up pretty well in the circumstances, leaving Tarpishev with a dilemma: does he play a man suffering from physical injury or another in Alex Bogomolov Jr possibly suffering mentally after his desperately disappointing debut on Friday. Who’d be a Davis Cup captain?
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Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) - 11/02/2012
Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya (AUT) - 11/02/2012
Captain Clemens Trimmel (AUT) - 11/02/2012