RELATED: First Round Order of Play
By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Vienna, Austria – The United States, the most decorated nation in the history of Davis Cup with 32 team titles, begins its title defense on Friday behind the strength of its team ace.
For the third tie in a row and the fifth in the last six, Andy Roddick of the United States drew the opening match of a series. The top nominated singles player drew Austria’s Jurgen Melzer, a player whom he has never lost to in six tries.
“It’s a little anticlimactic sometimes, but at least we know what’s ahead of us,” said Roddick after the order of play was revealed for the best-of-five first round series at Vienna’s Ferry Dusika Stadium.
A career 10-0 against the nominated singles players for Austria, Roddick was undefeated last year in Davis Cup competition over four ties.
He carries a six-match winning streak into the opener against Melzer (6-0), followed by Sunday’s first reverse singles match against Koubek (4-0).
“I have played him six times and never won a set,” said Melzer, who admitted that the most difficult aspect of playing Roddick is the monster service game.
“But we played two very close matches in Houston on a pretty fast clay surface and here in Vienna it’s a pretty slow one. I think anything is possible.”
A series already being called the biggest in Austrian tennis history since the 1990 epic semifinal held at Ernst Happel Stadium against the United States, the hosts hope that the slow indoor clay court laid down at the Ferry Dusika Stadium can assist them in upsetting the defending champions.
“Hopefully it’ll have another 24 hours to settle, but it’s playing ok,” said Patrick McEnroe, 13-6 in his career as U.S. team captain.
"The playing surface inside the lines is pretty good, but it’s roughed-up behind the baseline. It’s sort of out of our control, so we’re not worrying about it too much. We’re expecting a good atmosphere and a tough match, so we’re just looking forward to getting out there with a good attitude and play well.”
The site of Thursday’s draw ceremony and the fabled 1990 series, the open-air Ernst Happel Stadium, played host to an international soccer friendly match on Wednesday night. In front of over 48,000 spectators, Austria fell to rival Germany, 3-0.
The match was a dress rehearsal for the 2008 European Cup this summer. As the host nations, Austria and Switzerland drew automatic entry into the tournament, unlike Davis Cup where the Austrians needed to defeat Brazil in a 2007 play-off at Innsbruck to remain in the World Group.
“This is very important for us,” said Austrian Captain Gilbert Schaller. “We’re playing the defending champion at home, which gives us an advantage. We have a huge crowd behind us tomorrow. But it’s also huge for Austrian tennis because the interest is very high. If we win, we’re going to be heroes. But even if we lose, we have a chance to get tennis on another level again in Austria, which for us is very important.”
Two singles matches will be held on Friday beginning at 1:00 pm local time (7 am Eastern). Roddick’s match will be followed by James Blake against Austrian No. 1 Stefan Koubek.
“I’ve actually had a pretty good record playing against lefties,” said Blake, the United States’ second singles player. “I was thinking about it the other day, and I can’t remember the last lefty that I lost to. I have a good record against (Rafael) Nadal and lately against Koubek and Melzer. I got wins over both of them last year.”
“We’ve had a couple of lefty practice-partners here this week so I don’t think that it’s going to be a new and different ball coming at us,” added Roddick.
“I’ve never played him on clay courts, so I think that’s an advantage for me,” said Stefan Koubek, a lifetime 1-1 against Blake. “I think I have a good chance to beat him.”
The doubles rubber on Saturday at 2 pm local time (8 am Eastern) is set up to be a high-quality affair.
The top-ranked Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, carry a 13-1 Davis Cup doubles record into the fray against a Top 10 doubles player in Julian Knowle and Melzer.
“I think this was the best team that they could put together,” said Mike Bryan, who later praised Knowle’s clean ball-striking ability, especially on the return of serve.
“They’ve played many matches before. We’ve played a lot of teams before that were make-shift teams that played out to our advantage, but this is a team that’s established. It’s going to be a tough test for us.”
“Obviously, they’re the best team in the world,” said Julian Knowle, who partnered with Sweden’s Simon Aspelin to upset the Bryan brothers at the 2007 US Open en route to their first Grand Slam doubles title together.
“It’s very difficult to beat them, and it’s even more difficult to beat them in a best-of-five set match. The Bryans like to play on clay, but we’re going to give our best and see what happens on Saturday.”
Steady partners for over a year and a half, Knowle and Jurgen Melzer parted their separate ways in April of 2007 because of a nagging wrist injury to Melzer.
Reunited for Davis Cup, they face a stern test.
Versus and Tennis Channel will air same-day coverage of the United States vs. Austria first-round series.
Versus coverage begins at 12 p.m. Eastern for all three days of competition, Friday through Sunday. Tennis Channel will continue its Davis Cup prime-time tradition, re-airing coverage daily at 8 p.m. Eastern.