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By Jason Brown, USTA.com
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – Andy Roddick enjoyed the Swedish hospitality, but his American teammate James Blake experienced a grey Gothenburg afternoon to quickly forget.
Earning a split on the opening day of play, Roddick provided the United States with an early lift, a lead that was negated by the hot serve and return game of Thomas Johansson, who laced 23 aces in a four-set, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, victory over Blake.
Feeling right at home on a fast indoor carpet in the spacious Scandinavium stadium, Roddick fired 30 aces past Joachim Johansson of Sweden, winning the first point of the semifinal in straight sets, 7-6(4), 7-6(3), 6-3.
“I felt great out there,” said Roddick. “Normally I come on the pretty jittery in Davis Cup matches. At the Open I felt fine for all the matches and I'm normally pretty jittery there. Today I felt really relaxed. I'm not going to question it or think about it too much, because it's a lot more fun playing that way than doing the alternative.”
A slick surface similar to the Gothenburg Indians’ hockey rink directly beneath it, Roddick and Johansson traded killer serves, but it was Roddick’s dogged determination, particularly in tiebreakers, that made the difference.
“I think we've enjoyed – we have haven't minded the surface too much since we've been here,” said Roddick, who raised his Davis Cup career record to 24-9, including an unbeaten playing record over three ties this year.
Adhering to the advice of Captain Mats Wilander, Thomas Johansson caught Blake by surprise with an offensive-minded game-plan.
“I think that was the biggest key for me today,” said Thomas Johansson. “To try to stay aggressive especially, on his second serve. So I put a lot of pressure on him from the start, because as soon as you don't do that then you're under pressure from him.
And Mats was all the time pushing, pushing to stay aggressive, stay aggressive, even if I made some errors. On this surface you cannot be second. You really have to take charge.”
With three matches left to play, the U.S. and Sweden are tied 1-1 in the best-of-five World Group semifinal series.
Team USA will look to regain an edge tomorrow, with the top-ranked doubles team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan, out to continue their winning ways.
The Bryans, 11-1 in Davis Cup competition and carrying a six-match winning streak, put their sparkling record on the line on Saturday afternoon at 4 pm local time against newly-crowned US Open doubles champion Simon Aseplin and nine-time Grand Slam winner Jonas Bjorkman.
“They're not 11-1 against Simon and Jonas,” said Wilander.
“Simon beat them in the US Open…so we know they're beatable. If they're beatable in the ATP Tour they're beatable in Davis Cup. We have Jonas and a new US Open champion, so I think we have two doubles specialists and I think that's what you need. Then doubles is about one or two points here and there. The Bryan Brothers are the best in the world at winning those points.”
Having already stated, at least on paper, that the upcoming doubles rubber represents the most difficult Davis Cup match of their career, the top-ranked twins are showing heavy respect for Aspelin and Bjorkman.
The doubles rubber will be aired on Versus starting at 12:00 pm ET, with an encore presentation in the evening at 8:00 pm ET on The Tennis Channel.
Sweden’s draw on Day 1 means that Sunday’s first reverse singles match featuring Roddick and Thomas Johansson may very well determine which team advances to the 2007 World Group Final.
Roddick has played the role of team closer as well as anyone in team history (8-0), fortified with the knowledge that he dominated Thomas Johansson in a straight-sets win at the 2007 US Open just a few short weeks ago.
“Don't forget, they always have the option of putting Jonas (Bjorkman) in as well,” said Roddick cautiously. “We'll see. I'd just love more than anything not to have that be relevant.”
A match that featured scarce rallies that exceeded beyond a serve and an attempted return, Johansson couldn’t get a good read on Roddick’s serve, treading water against an in-form player.
Still, the man the Swedish fans affectionately call “Pim Pim” hadn’t lost the golden touch on his serve, rattling off 23 aces, including several in the 140 mph range.
“His style of play I don't think is one that needs repetition,” said Roddick. “(He) doesn't need a lot of matches to be effective or imposing.”
Playing his first professional match in eight months, Johansson appeared rusty at times, double-faulting 7 times, while committing several untimely unforced errors, particularly on the forehand side.
“I've been out for a long time and it's really tough to get back on court and play a match for a first time in eight months on a court like this,” said Johansson, whose ranking had slipped to No. 157 following his extended absence from tour play.
Both players held serve over the first two sets, sending each to a tiebreak. Controlling the tempo of the match, Roddick won four of five points to start the first-set tiebreak, then ran away with the second tie-break, reeling off five consecutive points highlighted by an ace on set point.
“It's tough to read his serve,” said Roddick. “But I felt as the match went on I got better and better on second serves at least. His first serve you're kind of leaning one way and hoping that you get there. But I think it was telling in the tiebreakers. I was able to kind of get some balls in play, and that helped.”
With Roddick leading in the third set, 4-3 and Joachim Johansson down 0-30, the Swede netted an easy overhead smash that handed the American the first break point opportunity of the match.
Then, charging to the net off a powerful second serve, Johansson struck a short forehand into the net as Roddick pumped his fist in delight.
With important matches still to be played on Sunday, Swedish Captain Mats Wilander has time to weigh his options for reverse singles.
He could elect to stick with Joachim Johansson, a powerful server still playing his way back into form or ask his veteran 35-year-old Bjorkman to play two days in a row.
Much will depend on how long the doubles rubber lasts, and if Wilander feels that Joachim Johansson is up to the challenge of playing in a potential deciding fifth match.
“Well, his chances are great, but I still have to see Jonas play in the doubles tomorrow,” said Wilander. “So it's impossible to judge who's going to play. Pim Pim certainly is right there. He can play a tough match against anyone. Now it's a matter of does he really believe he can win a fifth match in Davis Cup. Jonas is focusing on playing doubles and we'll see afterwards.”
For his part, Joachim Johansson is ready to step up if his captain nominates him.
“I feel good today and still there's another day tomorrow and I got to see how I feel tomorrow,” said Joachim Johansson. “It's tough to say. I think you got to ask Mats that. I feel good in my body right now and it's not up to me to pick.”
In the other semifinal that directly impacts the series in Gothenburg, Germany and Russia are deadlocked in Moscow, 1-1.
Russian Igor Andreev stunned German No.1 Tommy Haas in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, before Philipp Kohlscreiber upset Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in a five-set thriller.
If two events happen – a U.S. victory coupled with host Russia defeating Germany – the 2007 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final would be held on American soil, November 30 – December 2.
NOTES: When the United States wins the first singles match of a Davis Cup tie, they are a remarkable 174-17. With the victory on Friday, Andy Roddick moved into a tie with the great Vic Seixas for fifth place on the all-time U.S. singles list at 24 wins. If he can earn another victory in Gothenburg, Roddick would equal Bill Tilden (25).