By Jason Brown, USTA.com
La Jolla, Calif. – Barely able to stand, over three and a half hours removed from the opening game in his Davis Cup first round match at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, Andy Roddick couldn’t find an answer to the inspired play of Andrei Pavel, falling to the 32-year-old veteran, 6-7(3), 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-2, 6-4.
"Basically I didn't have anything left in my body for my body to use as fuel. I just felt dead. I felt like I had no energy after that" said Roddick, who declared defiantly, "I'm playing," when asked about his availibility for his reverse singles match on Sunday. Roddick will have all day Saturday to rest, rehab, and gain strength.
"It's the worst I've felt after a match," said Roddick. "I mean, I just went and laid down. Moving my leg or trying to get up off the floor felt like a mission. I've cramped before. But even while I'm cramping, I still felt like I had energy. Today I just felt drained, it was really tough to stay out there."
As Roddick was being rushed for medical treatment after the match, Romania grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the best-of-five weekend series, putting the pressure squarely on the capable shoulders of American second singles player James Blake.
Playing in a sleeveless shirt with a cool breeze at his back and the sun starting to set into the Pacific Ocean, Blake came up with one of his most complete Davis Cup performances to date, racing past a flat-footed Victor Hanescu in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-2, earning rave reviews from his captain.
“I was really impressed by what I’ve seen from James in the last couple of months and he really showed that today,” said United States Captain Patrick McEnroe.
After losing the third set tie-break after briefly holding a match point that was throttled by a clutch topspin lob winner from Pavel, Roddick called for team trainer Doug Spreen, complaining of a cramp in his right hand.
The injury report only worsened for Team USA as the match resumed. Roddick began complaining of abdominal cramping as he crumpled to the ground in evident pain.
“This is Davis Cup – we’ve seen these crazy things happen,” said McEnroe.
“Pavel’s the kind of guy that if you let him stick around, he’s a veteran and will find a way to work himself back into the match, and that’s what he did today.”
The victory gave Pavel 28 career wins for his country, good for third all-time in Romanian Davis Cup history
Warming up for his match against Hanescu just minutes after witnessing his teammate suffer the tough defeat playing in an injury-depleted state, Blake remained composed even though deep inside he was pulling for Roddick.
“I try not to get too emotionally involved with what’s happening on the court with Andy’s matches, but it was tough to do that today,” said Blake, a consummate Davis Cup teammate and an even better friend off the court.
“I was pretty bummed more so for his health…I wanted to make sure he was ok. It’s a horrible feeling when you’ve got nothing left. I told him I was proud of him because he did everything that he could to try to win that match.”
“He’s picked me up a bunch of times,” said Blake, referring to the team’s world group play-off tie last September in Leuven, Belgium, when he lost to Olivier Rochus only to have Roddick step up with an impressive clay-court clincher.
Entering the Saturday doubles rubber, the United States and Romania are even at one point apiece.
California twins Bob and Mike Bryan, the top-ranked doubles team in the world and the 2006 Australian Open champions, will suit up for team captain Patrick McEnroe.
Meanwhile, Pavel and Hanescu are expected to be called upon to play three days in a row and serve double-duty for their country in the doubles rubber.
McEnroe sensed that Horia Tecau could be a late substitution, but that wouldn’t matter to the Bryans, who are playing the best tennis of their careers.
In the other first round Davis Cup tie that directly impacts the United States, Chile leads the Slovak Republic, 2-0, on the strength of a straight-set, 7-6(5), 7-6(3), 6-3, Fernando Gonzalez victory over Martin Mertinak, and a four-set Nicolas Massu win over Dominik Hrbaty.
The winner of the United States-Romania tie meets either Chile or the Slovak Republic in the world quarterfinals April 7-9, 2006.