FRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND: Records are meant to be broken, and all good things come to an end. But no-one was predicting at the start of the opening day of the Switzerland v USA Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie that Roger Federer’s 15-match unbeaten run in Davis Cup singles would come to an end. Yet come to an end it has.
The star of this opening day in Fribourg turns out not to be Federer, but John Isner. The giant American is already assured of his place in the tennis history books thanks to his 11-hour five-minute win over Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon. But this 46 63 76(4) 62 win will be of greater satisfaction to him as a tennis player.
‘It’s one of the greatest wins of my life, no that’s wrong, it’s the greatest win of my life,’ he said on court at the end of his two-hour 39-minute victory.
Isner credited the USA’s captain Jim Courier with instilling in him the belief that he could beat the great Federer. ‘I really owe a lot to Captain Courier,’ he said. ‘He was on me in practice all week, told me to do all the right things, every single practice, hit all the right shots. I’m going to make mistakes, that’s how I play, but the way I played today, that’s how I need to play in all my matches.’
The American rode the cushion given him by Mardy Fish’s earlier five-sets win over Stanislas Wawrinka. That allowed Isner to go out firing, and while Federer broke in the third game and took the first set, Isner never wavered from his game plan.
Towards the end, the Swiss captain Severin Luthi was left saying to Federer at changes of ends, ‘He can’t go on like this, he’s bound to miss a few serves.’ But he didn’t, and the end came rather quickly as Isner broke twice in the fourth set.
The turning point effectively came in the third set tiebreak. Federer battled back from 0-3 down to get level at 4-4. Then when Isner rushed to the net, Federer had a forehand down the line to lead 5-4, but netted it.
Isner’s serve was too solid to give the Swiss another chance. In the fifth game of the fourth set, Federer had Isner at 0-40, but the American thundered down three massive first serves, two of them aces, and in the next game broke when Federer mis-hit a forehand at 30-40.
The result leaves this tie, that had seemed to promising for the Swiss, at 2-0 for the visitors, thanks to another Davis Cup marathon by Mardy Fish. For the fifth time in his last six Davis Cup by BNP Paribas singles – and the fourth time on clay – the top-ranked American went to five sets, but he came through to beat Stanislas Wawrinka 62 46 46 61 97 in four hours 26 minutes.
The match’s attraction lay in the fluctuating fortunes rather than the quality of play. Both players were clearly feeling the weight of expectation, and neither played his best tennis.
But having broken in the fourth game of the fourth set, Fish finished the stronger, and while Wawrinka had his chances, the American always looked the likelier winner in the 95-minute final set.
Despite his proliferation of five-setters, this was Fish’s longest match in Davis Cup. ‘I feel pretty tired,’ he said afterwards, ‘but I lost a couple of long ones in Austin last year, and that feels so bad I just needed to win this one.’ Fish also praised the crowd in Fribourg as the most knowledgeable and fairest he has come across in playing for his country.
Federer was optimistic at the end of the day that the Swiss can still come back and win the remaining three rubbers. He and Wawrinka are now more likely than ever to play in the doubles, despite Wawrinka’s marathon match, and Federer will start favourite to beat Fish in the first reverse singles. But if Isner delivers a repeat performance against Wawrinka in the fifth rubber, it’s hard to see the Americans losing.
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Roger Federer (SUI) - 10/02/2012
Captain Severin Luthi (SUI) - 10/02/2012
Captain Jim Courier (USA) - 10/02/2012
John Isner (USA) - 10/02/2012
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 10/02/2012