Jon Isner sprints for a return in his Davis Cup semifinal loss to Davis Ferrer of Spain.
David Ferrer hits a backhand in his win over John Isner of the U.S.
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
GIJON, Spain – When the draw came out for the 2012 Davis Cup, it looked like one of the toughest paths the U.S. could possibly have to move out of the first round, let alone advance to its first semifinal since 2008 or final since 2007.
The U.S. had to play now 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and Switzerland in the first round, a daunting task any time, but especially away and on clay. But the Americans were equal to the task with a sensational weekend of tennis, upsetting the Swiss team 5-0, as John Isner beat Federer in four sets and Mardy Fish outlasted Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets, to help the U.S. win with the improbable sweep.
The draw did not get any easier with having to travel to France, away on clay again, to face a few other top 20 players in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon, but again the U.S. prevailed, behind two singles wins again from Isner and as usual, a clutch doubles win from Bob and Mike Bryan to advance to the semis.
Then came arguably the most difficult ask in Davis Cup: play Spain, the defending Davis Cup champion, away again and on clay again.
The U.S. team of world No. 10 Isner, No. 26 Sam Querrey and doubles world No. 1s the Bryans, behind Captain Jim Courier, played their hearts out and battled world No. 5 David Ferrer, world No. 12 Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez over three days in Gijon, Spain, with four and five-set marathon matches but in the end, the home team won a few more key points and prevailed.
Ferrer provided the tie-clinching point Sunday, defeating Isner 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in three hours to give Spain a 3-1 victory in the tie and advance to the Davis Cup Final. With the clinching win, the scheduled fifth singles match between Querrey and Almagro was canceled.
But even with the loss, the U.S. Davis Cup Team closes its 2012 chapter after a positive, successful season, although of course Courier and his players all had hoped to bring home the title.
"I think it was a great battle between two of the best teams in the world. Spain is the high water mark in Davis Cup in the last 15 years and we knew it was going to be a very tricky tie for us and we were close," Courier said. "We are proud of our effort and we salute the Spanish team for its efforts and its victory. Two great teams went out there and competed and it was very close and the team that played better when they needed to won the matches.
"It has been a very positive year for us on the US Davis Cup Team," he added. "We have been given the most difficult draw that you can have in this era to play the teams we have on the road and we had some great wins and we had some competitive losses. There is a lot for this team to be proud of and what we have achieved this year."
On Friday, Ferrer defeated Querrey in four sets and Almagro defeated Isner in a five-set, over four hour marathon to make the score 2-0 in favor of Spain. Then Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan extended their unbeaten Davis Cup road record with a hard-fought, four-set win over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez to keep the U.S. alive.
But another upset was not in the makings this time as Ferrer played steadily, returned well as always and was crafty against the much-taller Isner. He used effective drop shots and passing shots throughout the match as the American struggled with 70 unforced errors, including more than usual on his strong forehand side and he did not win as many free points on his powerful serve as usual, in a credit to Ferrer’s reputation as one of the best returners in the world.
Isner wished he could have contributed victories for the U.S. team the same way he had done against Switzerland and France, although he was a huge reason for why the team advanced to the semifinals, winning two points in each previous tie and going 4-2 in Davis Cup on the year.
"It is disappointing, the Spanish team in my opinion was just too good," he said. "They won the important points and it is a bit discouraging for me. I wanted to contribute in the ways that I did in the first two ties and I wasn’t able to do it. That is a credit to Almgaro and Ferrer, they were both better than me."
"Probably my best win of the year," he added of his win over Federer. "Any time you can beat a guy like that it is going to be at the top of the list. Had I been able to win today that would have been another good one but he (Ferrer) was just way too good for me."
On Sunday, Isner was mishitting his usually reliable forehand early but produced big serves when he needed them as the two traded breaks in the opening game and then he took control of the tiebreak with a dominating serve, hitting three aces to take a 4-1 lead and forcing Ferrer into a few errors, including sending a shot long to give the American the first set.
Isner had a chance in the opening game of the second set to take the early lead with a break point but a good serve from Ferrer forced an Isner return into the net and then the American misfired two backhands wide to allow Ferrer to hold. For the match, Isner was able to convert on just two of six break point chances to six of 15 for Ferrer.
Ferrer was able to capitalize on that momentum from the opening game, breaking Isner in the next game and then again a few games later as Isner’s errors began to pile up and he was not hitting as many big first serves, including just one of his 16 aces. He was able to break back once, when Ferrer double faulted but could not complete the double-break comeback as the Spaniard leveled the match.
Isner had a chance to take the lead first again in the third after holding for 2-1 with a break point chance after the chair umpire confirmed a Ferrer shot landed past the baseline. But on the next point, Isner returned long to bring the game to deuce and Ferrer then held two points later with a drop shot for 2-all.
Through the third set, Isner’s giant serve was effective again as he faced no break points until 3-all but Ferrer was able to take advantage of a few more errors from the American to break at love when Isner sent a forehand long for a 4-3 lead. He never gave Isner a break point chance from then out to put Spain one set away from the final.
Ferrer continued his steady play through the fourth as he read Isner’s serve well, played solid defense and worked a variety of shots. He broke in the third game for an early 2-1 lead when Isner hit a forehand into the net. The American had a chance to level the score in the next game, however, earning a break point chance when Ferrer netted a backhand. However, the Spaniard responded with another great drop shot to bring the game to deuce and two points later held with a backhand passing shot down the line. He capitalized to break again in the next game for a lead that turned out to be good enough to move Spain into the final.
"It hinged on a couple points. I had some break points in the second set and third set," Isner said. "I like my chances if I am up 2-0, 3-1, I am able to conserve my energy a little more and put 100 percent of my focus onto holding serve and trying to hold out the set. They won those crucial points a lot more than I did in my two matches."
The draw for the 2013 Davis Cup season will be held Wednesday, Sept. 19 with the first round scheduled to be played right after the Australian Open. The U.S. hopes to have its first home tie since the 2011 quarterfinals against Spain in Austin, Texas, but either way, will as always look to win its first title since 2007.
"We will be ready for whatever happens," Courier said.