Related: PHOTO GALLERY
By Jason Brown, USTA.com
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – The United States is one series away from their first trip to the Davis Cup final in three years, but they first must pass a stern test on the road against perennial powerhouse Sweden.
American Andy Roddick will face Joachim Johansson of Sweden in the opening match of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Semifinal. Roddick is 1-1 lifetime against the 6-foot-6 Swede, but Johansson hasn’t played a match in eight months.
A rematch of the 1997 Davis Cup Final, the best-of-five series will be held at the Scandinavium, a converted hockey arena, on a fast indoor carpet well-suited for both teams.
Sweden is bolstered by the knowledge that they have defeated the U.S. on three occasions in Gothenburg.
“I don’t put really any credence into it other than the fact that we’re playing away, against a good team that plays well in Davis Cup.” said U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe, who witnessed his team come together earlier this year in a memorable road victory on clay in the Czech Republic.
“I think if we had been there as a team before – these particular four players – maybe that would have some impact. But you’re talking about completely different teams on both sides.”
Versus will air tape-delayed coverage of the United States vs. Sweden semifinal throughout the weekend of play, September 21-23, with an encore presentation on The Tennis Channel.
|Sept. 21||12:00 PM ET (Tape Delay)||Versus||Singles |
|Sept. 21||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Singles |
|Sept. 22||12:00 PM ET (Tape Delay)||Versus||Doubles |
|Sept. 22||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Doubles |
|Sept. 23||12:00 PM ET (Tape Delay)||Versus||Singles |
|Sept. 23||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Singles |
| || || || |
| ||*All Times Eastern|| || |
| || || || |
Nominated to serve in his accustomed No. 1 singles role, Roddick carries an impressive 23-9 record into the tie. The fifth ranked player has won all three of his Davis Cup matches this year, including a pair of wins on the road in the Czech Republic.
James Blake is scheduled to play the second match on Friday, taking on Sweden’s top-nominated singles player Thomas Johansson. The six-year Davis Cup veteran is 2-0 lifetime against the Swede, including a 2007 victory on hard court over the summer in Indianapolis.
Friday (9:00 am ET)
Joachim Johansson (SWE) vs. Andy Roddick (USA)
Thomas Johansson (SWE) vs. James Blake (USA)
Saturday (10:00 am ET)
Simon Aspelin/Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) vs. Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA)
Sunday (8:00 am ET)
Thomas Johansson (SWE) vs. Andy Roddick (USA)
Joachim Johansson (SWE) vs. James Blake (USA)
Thrust into action following the withdrawal of 33rd-ranked singles player Robin Soderling to a wrist injury, Johansson hasn’t played competitively since January, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll perform.
“I’ve been hitting well in practice, but it’s tough to say, I haven’t played in eight months,” said Johansson, who was asked by Wilander to suit up for his country two weeks ago.
“But I feel fit – if I didn’t feel fit I wouldn’t be here. I’ve been injured for so long, that I wouldn’t risk anything with my shoulder if I wasn’t ready to play.”
“He’s looked good in practice, but you never know,” said Swedish Captain Mats Wilander. “He hasn’t played a match in eight months and then you try and play a five-set match that lasts for four hours – you can’t really test yourself for that situation.
Even with a lack of match preparation, Wilander believes that his gifted player matches up well against Roddick, a man that he beat at the 2004 US Open. It also puts Thomas Johansson against James Blake on the first day, which he views as advantageous.
“It was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then,” said Roddick, reflecting on the disparate paths that he and Joachim Johansson have since taken.
“He’s going to come out and play high-risk tomorrow and I don’t think that he’s going to want to get into a lot of long rallies. I think that he’s going to go big with first and second serves. He has nothing to lose out there tomorrow, so I just have to stay the course and play my match solid the whole way and take my chances when I get them.”
Surprising many who felt that he would ask the 35-year-old Bjorkman to play both singles and doubles, Wilander instead went with the 157th-ranked Johansson.
“If you ask me if the choice was between Joachim and Jonas (Bjorkman) to play, I’d say that Jonas might be slightly ahead in his level, but Jonas can still play James Blake on Sunday,” said Wilander about his roster flexibility heading into Sunday’s reverse singles.
A meeting of the No. 1’s, Roddick and Thomas Johansson will play the first match on Sunday, followed by Blake against Joachim Johansson.
Bryans Await Ultimate Challenge of Swedish Duo
Bob and Mike Bryan, who this week clinched overall year-end honors as the top-ranked doubles team in the world, are a remarkable 11-1 in Davis Cup competition, but face a battle against US Open champion Simon Aspelin and Bjorkman, a nine-time Grand Slam winner.
“I think it’s definitely our toughest match ever in Davis Cup,” said Mike Bryan. “We’re playing Jonas who has nine Grand Slams, and Simon who we just lost to at the US Open. They’re both ad-court players, so one of them is going to have to play the deuce court. They haven’t played a lot together but on paper they’re both ranked high in doubles and they’ve beaten us before so I think it’s our toughest match.”
“We usually rise up in these moments, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” said Bob Bryan.
Showing mutual signs of respect on both sides of the net, Bjorkman later said that the Bryans on Saturday would present the biggest challenge of his extensive Davis Cup career.
“It’s always fun to play the best teams,” said Bjorkman. “That’s why it’s such a great opportunity to play the U.S. again because they always have some of the best players in the world, but also one of the best teams as well.”
Teamed with Aspelin, who partnered with Julian Knowle to win the 2007 US Open men’s doubles title, Bjorkman and the Swedes have every reason to believe that they have a fighter’s chance of pulling off an upset.
“Winning the US Open was huge for me, but I had a couple of days off and then I started focusing on this match,” said Aseplin. “I’m going to be thinking about that win for the rest of my life, but Davis Cup is always one of your highlights. It’s the best feeling when you win, but it’s also hugely disapointing when you lose.”