U.S. Advances to Home Quarterfinal Date Against Spain, April 6-8, in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Ostrava, Czech Republic – Andy Roddick booked the United States a spot in the 2007 World Group Quarterfinals and rewrote team history on clay along the way, defeating Czech Tomas Berdych Sunday in four sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
“To win a match against a good team away on clay is a big step for us,” said U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe, summing up the succesful week in Ostrava.
Clinching the best-of-five series, 4-1, the U.S. will next play Spain in the quarterfinals.
Spain, a 3-2 first-round winner over Switzerland, must travel to the United States, where they should expect fast indoor hard courts in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Remembering how it felt to struggle on slow clay courts in the 2004 Davis Cup final in Seville, Roddick sounded eager to give visiting Spain a dose of its own medicine.
“I remember the court that we played on, and it was similar to a sandbox,” deadpanned Roddick. “So I’m sure that we’ll return the favor. I’m sure the court won’t be too slow when we play them at home.”
Improving his series-clinching record to an unblemished 8-0, Roddick starred for the United States in Ostrava, winning both of his matches over Ivo Minar and Berdych.
“It’s almost an opportunity of circumstance,” said Roddick, preferring to deflect the accolades behind his gaudy series-clinching statistic.
“So far in my Davis Cup career, I’ve always been the No. 1 player, so I’m always the first one to play on Sunday; therefore, I get the opportunity to do it. And also, I think a lot of credit has to go to the Bryans because if James and I split, which we’ve been doing lately on the first day, they almost always give me a chance to close. So the 8-0 record can be attributed to the whole squad.”
Yet it was only appropriate for the de facto team leader to clinch the first-round tie and erase the clay-court demons of years’ past, a span that had stretched to 10 years.
Up against the 12th-ranked Berdych, in front of a partisan sellout crowd at the CEZ Arena, Roddick knew that he had to start strong and play his best tennis.
Watching from the team bench on Friday afternoon as his teammate James Blake took a tough loss to the talented Czech in four sets, Roddick devised a gameplan and stuck to it.
“I knew that I was probably going to have to be much more aggressive and step up and play much closer to the baseline,” said Roddick.
In the opener against Minar, Roddick was content to force the 160th-ranked rookie into making careless errors, but with Berdych, he realized that he was going to have to put extra stick on his shots and play with convinction if he intended to win.
“If you allow Berdych to play aggressive, it would have been a long, long day for me,” said Roddick.
At the outstart, Berdych was on fire, hitting aces and clean winners from all angles. Gaining a pair of break points at three-all, he broke Roddick, his backhand return slamming against the net cord and softly dropping over for a winner.
Consolidating the break in the next game, Berdych was well on his way to claiming the first set, 6-4.
Roddick turned the tide in the second set. Gaining his first break opportunity on Berdych’s serve, Roddick converted on the opportunity and pushed his lead to 3-0. From there, he wouldn’t look back.
The fourth-ranked player broke Berdych again on his first service game of the fourth set and gained a security break to extend it to 4-1.
Just about out of gas, Berydch received medical attention between the third and fourth sets for leg cramps, but by then it was too late. Roddick’s confidence was soaring, and he could smell the finish line was near.
In the fourth set tie-break, Roddick staked himself to a 3-0 lead and extended that margin to 5-1. Then, on match point, Berdych slugged a backhand into the net and Roddick and the U.S. bench rejoiced.
“If he would have been able to do that for three sets, than that would have been too good for me,” said Roddick, who leveled his record against Berdych to 1-1.
“After the first set, I sat down and told our captain, I think I’m actually hitting the ball pretty well. I think it also might be a little easier for me to play knowing that James would be the favorite in the second match, as well. I think that definitely takes a little bit of pressure off of me.”
McEnroe, who has seen Roddick grow as a player and as a person over the past three years, came away delighted by Roddick's composed, gutsy effort.
“I was just so pleased with his performance and his attitude,” said McEnroe. “I think it was one of his biggest wins, certainly in Davis Cup, and one of his most impressive wins. I think it’s going to be a big boost for his confidence.”
“As far as the weight of the situation involved, as far as being in a pressure situation, it could definitely be one of my best matches on clay,” agreed Roddick, who improved his Davis Cup singles record to 22-9.
Gracious hosts throughout the week, the Czechs wondered aloud if there was some solace to be found in losing at home to the United States, a team that some members of its media had deemed “the best team in the world.”
“First of all, we have to prove that we’re the best team before we can be called the best team,” said Roddick without hesitation.
"Second of all, I’ve been in that situation before, and I’m pretty sure that nothing is going to make the Czechs feel much better right now. Losing is losing, regardless of who it’s to.”
A late substitute for Blake in the fifth rubber, American Bob Bryan concluded the first round with a straight-sets, 7-6, 6-4 win over Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic.
The most prolific nation in the history of Davis Cup competition, the U.S. has hoisted the trophy 31 times but hasn’t won it since 1995.
“That’s a stat that I don’t like, especially considering that I’ve been on the team for seven years now,” said Roddick. “I’d love to be on a winning Davis Cup team, especially provided the tradition that we’ve had. I’d love to change that, and I know all of the rest of the guys on the team share that sentiment.”
Well, if their comprehensive team victory in central Europe is any indication, the Americans are well on their way towards bringing the Cup back to the United States.