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By Jason Brown, USTA.com
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – For the ninth time in as many tries, Andy Roddick ended a Davis Cup series for the United States on a winning note.
Defeating Swedish substitute Jonas Bjorkman in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-4, Roddick won his second point of the World Group semifinal tie and sent the Americans to their first Davis Cup final since 2004 when they played before a record crowd in Seville, Spain.
With the series decided, American James Blake defeated Simon Aspelin of Sweden in the fifth rubber, 6-1, 6-3, a shortened best-of-three set match.
Blake’s straight set win over Simon Aspelin complete, the U.S. finished the winning weekend with a solid 4-1 victory over Sweden.
“It's something that I know we've been – we as a team have been dreaming of for a while, having a home final,” said Roddick.
“I think we're all just really excited about the opportunity.”
While Roddick is the first to admit that his record in series-clinching matches is a product of the scheduling format and circumstance – the top-nominated singles player is always scheduled for the fourth rubber on Sunday – 9 for 9 is hard to overlook.
“My team's put me in good positions going into a lot of Sundays,” said Roddick.
“I don't really think about it. I don't really want to think about it. I've kind of found this comfort level with playing Davis Cup, whereas early on in my career I would be maybe get a little bit too overanxious. I feel comfortable playing for the U.S. flag now. Maybe that showed in the last couple of ties that I've been able to clinch.
I get nervous. It's tough the morning of and the night before. But it's a really good feeling when you are able to clinch. I know we talk about it ad nauseam, but I really do love the guys that I play with. They're like brothers. When you can do your part to help your team venture forward, when you have one common dream and one common goal, it's a very, very good feeling, and it's a very rewarding feeling for all of us, I think.”
Quickly becoming one of the most accomplished players in team history, Roddick scored an impressive victory over Joachim Johansson in the opening match of the semifinal and throttled Bjorkman in the clincher without conceding a break.
Watching closing from the sidelines as he has for the past 7 seasons, U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe is wowed by the crucially-important mental development of the team ace.
“I think Andy's just handling the pressure moments really well in Davis Cup,” said McEnroe.
“He's obviously very high strung in a good way, energetic. Sometimes that could get the best of him when he was a little younger. Now he rides I think the emotional wave a little better in these best of five set matches because you're going to have some ups and downs in these matches, even if you're playing well and everything's going well.”
A commanding 5-0 over three rounds this year, 25-9 overall, Roddick moved into a tie with Bill Tilden for fourth on the all-time win list of U.S. Davis Cup singles players.
Since making his debut in the 2001 Davis Cup First Round against Switzerland, Roddick has suited up for the Red, White & Blue in 34 singles matches, more than any other player except for three legendary Americans – John McEnroe (49), Andre Agassi (36), and Vic Seixas (36).
One of his four biggest goals, to win the Davis Cup in a U.S. uniform, is within reach, just one win away.
“I always said as a kid I had four just dreams that I thought were just completely out of reach that would never be attainable,” said Roddick.
“One was to win the US Open, one was to be No. 1, one was to win Wimbledon, and one was to win Davis Cup. It's big dreams for a kid, and I don't think I ever thought I'd ever be in the vicinity of that. Now selfishly we're here. Chance to get three out of four, it's exciting. It's definitely right up there with anything that I've been able to do.”
Now that the business at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg has been done, the Americans can start to focus on their finals’ opponent, Russia, the same team that eliminated them in the semifinals last year.
But unlike the 2006 semifinals played on a slow indoor clay surface in Moscow, the U.S. will host the Russians on a home court with control over the playing surface.
“Everybody’s pretty excited about it,” said McEnroe, a steadying influence who has guided the team to its second final over his tenure.
“We knew either way it would be a tough match. Germany certainly would be tough away. The opportunity to play a final at home, we've never had that chance as a team. So to get the final at home certainly is a big plus for us. Russia's obviously a great team. They have a lot of good players that can play on different surfaces. We'll try to play to our strength.”
An elimination match for the home team, Sweden needed a win to stay alive.
Swedish No. 1 Thomas Johansson came down with a fever and stomach sickness on Saturday night, and was unable to suit up for his reverse singles match against Roddick.
Announced shortly before the start of play on Sunday afternoon, Swedish team captain Mats Wilander selected Bjorkman, a 35-year-old veteran who played with Aspelin in a straight-sets loss to Bob and Mike Bryan in the doubles rubber, to play Roddick.
Bjorkman and Roddick last played each other in 2004, a straight-set, 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-0, Roddick victory on hard court in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Delray Beach, Florida.
More of the same, Roddick controlled their latest encounter from the outset.
Breaking Bjorkman in the fourth game of the match, Roddick extended his first-set lead to 4-1. Serving at 2-5 to stay in the set, Bjorkman was broken again as a punishing forehand set up a long return from the Swede as the American claimed the first set.
Bjorkman’s best chance of getting back into the match, Roddick fell behind 15-40 at two-all in the second set.
Under pressure, Roddick struck his fastest serve of the match (234 km) erasing the second break point, then hit another ace out wide, demoralizing his opponent.
Seizing control of the second set tie-break, Roddick won the first five points en route to a commanding two-set lead.
With the Swedes backs against the wall, Roddick closed the door in the third set. Breaking Bjorkman to go up 4-2 in the final frame, Roddick served for the match at 5-2.
Highlighted by his 15th ace of the match (Roddick hit 29 aces in his win over Joachim Johansson on Friday), the American hero sealed the U.S. victory on the second match point, crumpling the stadium floor after Bjorkman hit a backhand volley into the net.
Rushing over to the team bench, Roddick got a bear-hug from his captain, and was quickly engulfed by his teammates.
Resting his head on Blake’s shoulders, the U.S. celebrated the big win by forming a group-hug and jumping up and down together in unison.
Russia Defeats Germany on Strength of Andreev Win
MOSCOW (AP) -- Igor Andreev beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 Sunday to lead defending champion Russia over Germany 3-2 and into the Davis Cup final against the United States.
With Germany one win away from its first final in 14 years, Mikhail Youzhny evened the best-of-five series 2-2 by defeating Philipp Petzschner 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the first reverse singles match on indoor clay at Olympic Stadium. Youzhny was named as a substitute for Nikolay Davydenko.
Andreev said the pressure of having Russia's hopes on his shoulders pushed him to play hard.
"I actually like that atmosphere, when you feel the adrenaline in every cell of your body and you step out knowing that the crowd will be behind,'' he said.
The decisive fifth match was a battle between Friday's upset winners. Andreev gave Russia its first point with a three-set win over Tommy Haas in the opening singles, but Kohlschreiber evened it by outlasting Davydenko. Petzschner teamed with Alexander Waske to beat Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov in four sets Saturday.
Germany has not reached a Davis Cup final since 1993, and has not beaten Russia since the first round that year.
Russia is undefeated in 14 matches at home since 1995, and won its second Davis Cup title last season over Argentina.
The United States will host Russia in the final in November.
Russia beat the United States in last year's semifinals in Moscow, also on clay.