By Jason Brown, USTA.comRANCHO MIRAGE, California –
Soaring high above the surrounding San Jacinto mountain range, a confident and poised Andy Roddick defeated Nicolas Massu of Chile in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6(5), 7-6(5), to level the best-of-five Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal at one point apiece.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 4,030 at the Mission Hills Country Club, Roddick picked up his teammate James Blake with an important win that assures a meaningful fourth rubber on Sunday.
"It's all about picking someone else up when they're having a tough day," said Roddick, who couldn't wait to help out his teammate Blake.
"I was just really excited to go out there and pick up James."
Roddick, ranked fourth in the world, is scheduled to meet Fernando Gonzalez, Chile’s No. 1 player, in the first reverse singles match on the deciding day.
Just 2 for 18 on break point conversions in a match that spanned a manageable 2 hours and 42 minutes, Roddick was the better player in consecutive tie-breakers that decided the outcome of the match.
When he needed to record a big point, Roddick loaded up and harnessed his overpowering serve to gain an advantage over the 26-year-old Massu.
Slightly injuring his knee, Roddick slipped and splayed his legs on the grass midway through the third set. Roddick overcame the fall to force the deciding tie-breaker.
Earlier on Friday, in the opening match of the Davis Cup quarterfinals, Gonzalez came back from a two-set deficit to defeat American James Blake in five sets, 6-7(5), 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 10-8, to give Chile an early lead in the best-of-five series.
Back home in New York awaiting the birth of his baby girl, U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe said, “we still have a lot of work to do.”
Scheduled to play tomorrow (11 am pt start) with Massu in the doubles rubber against the U.S. twins Bob and Mike Bryan, Gonzalez is considered questionable to suit up for Chile after his fitness was severely tested in the 4-hour and 20-minute marathon against Blake.
“I hope somewhere back in the hotel the Bryans are smiling right now,” said Blake, knowing that he had made a large dent on Gonzalez’s fitness for the remainder of the weekend series.
Entering the final frame with a career record of 0-6 in five set matches, Blake came close to ridding himself of that blemish if it were not for the exceptional shot-making of his opponent.
“You want to kick my dog, too?” retorted Blake to a reporter’s suggestion that his lack of results in five-set matches was becoming a trend.
Playing from behind nearly the entire match, Gonzalez’s lethal baseline forehands and remarkable intestinal fortitude were his biggest assets.
Also employing a bit of gamesmanship, Gonzalez took frequent injury breaks to have his leg massaged.
These momentum-breaking timeouts seemed to have irked Blake who referred to the tactics as “bush-league” and not the type of sportsmanship that Davis Cup founder Dwight Davis was thinking of when he conceived the international team competition.
An early turning point in the match, Gonzalez served for the first set leading 5-4. Clipping the tape on an errant volley, Gonzalez’s missed opportunity at the net opened the door for Blake to get back into the match.
The 26-year-old American then laced a forehand winner to get to 15-30. After a Gonzalez forehand error, Blake earned a pair of break points. Leveling the match at five games apiece, Blake converted on his first break point opportunity, sizing up a clean inside-out forehand winner to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Starting to dial up forehand winners after taking the bulk of the set getting comfortable with his footing on the grass surface, Blake forced a tie-break.
Leading 2-1 in the tie-break, Blake laced a pretty one-handed backhand runner down the line to gain a mini-break, 3-1. The Chilean fought back from a 5-2 deficit to square the tie-break at five points apiece.
But as the unforced errors began to mount, Blake smelled blood, and finished off the 47-minute first set with a comfortable volley into the open court, Gonzalez helpless on the ground after falling to retrieve a short ball.
But as the match carried on deep into the fourth and fifth sets, Blake’s first-serve percentage plummeted, while Gonzalez’s baseline winners and ace totals soared.
“It hurts to let the team down,” said Blake. “But I’m hoping by Sunday, it will be a meaningless match.”