JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –
Bob and Mike Bryan and the entire U.S. Davis Cup team knew heading into Saturday’s doubles rubber that it was going to be a battle, even for the 13-time Grand Slam champions and best men’s doubles team in history.
Their opponents, doubles world No. 16 Marcelo Melo and world No. 19 Bruno Soares, are two of the best doubles players in the world. Both won titles already in 2013 with other partners, and as a team they entered the match with a 2-1 career advantage over the Bryans.
Sunday's encounter turned into nothing short of a battle, especially to break serve, with the Brazilians pushing the Bryans to their first career Davis Cup five-setter as a team, ultimately prevailing, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (7), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, to keep Brazil alive in the best-of-five first-round tie at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. It was just the third loss for the Bryans in their 23 Davis Cup matches as a team.
The U.S. now heads into Sunday's play with a 2-1 advantage, having swept the singles on Friday. American No. 1 John Isner is up first Sunday against Brazilian No. 1 Thomaz Bellucci with a chance to clinch the tie for the U.S. Should Belluci pull the upset, Sam Querrey will face Thiago Alves in deciding match.
Bob and Mike Bryan were disappointed to not be able to clinch the tie for the U.S. They said they thought they came in with a solid game plan from U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier, but iIn the end, they just didn't execute it properly.
"Hats off to the Brazilians," Bob Bryan said. "I thought they served well pretty much of the four hours. They were half-volleying well, keeping the pressure on for a long time. We would have loved to get the point for the U.S. I feel like we’re capable of playing at a higher level. The coaching was great all week, we worked on the right things. We had a great game plan from Jim, from our coach at home. It’s on us to execute it. We didn’t get it done, and that’s our fault."
In the end, the Bryans may look back at the first set as the match's lost opportunity. They quickly jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first-set tie-break, but the Brazilians were not going down without a fight. Two forehand errors off Bob Bryan’s racquet made it 5-3 before a return long from Melo gave the Americans three set points.
The Bryans, however, were unable to convert. The Brazilians pulled even at 6-all on a shot into the net, took their first lead at 7-6 when a Mike Bryan netted a backhand, and then completed the comeback on the next point when Mike Bryan hit a backhand long.
The second set moved along similar to the first, with excellent serving from all four players and classic serve-and-volley doubles, without many long rally or volley exchanges. Another tie-break ensued, this time with Brazil jumping out to the lead and holding four set points. But the Bryans always bring their best to Davis Cup, and after 10 years on the team, they kept fighting. Trailing 6-3 and facing a two-set deficit, they fought off three set points to make it 6-6, shook off another trailing 7-6, and then rattled off the last three points to take the set, 9-7, in the tie-break, firing up the crowd as the Bryans high-stepped and pumped their fists.
"In the first set, we could have got on top of them a little bit," Mike Bryan said of what turned the tie-break. "We play well from ahead. It was a pivotal moment to win the second set, which felt good. We were either going to chest bump or high step or do something."
Momentum would be short-lived. The Brazilians struck first in the third set, converting the first break-point chance of the match for either team and holding on to take a two-sets-to-one lead. The Bryans pressed on into the fourth, saving four break points on Mike Bryan’s serve in the third game and breaking the Brazilian team a few games later - for the first time - to push the match into a fifth-and deciding set.
The final set started out promising for the Americans, who held three break point chances in the Brazilian’s first two service games. But they were unable to convert, finishing the match just one of six on break-point chances. Instead, it was Soares and Melo who converted, breaking Mike Bryan at love in the eighth game and holding on for the victory.
"I thought we were on top of them for about 45 minutes there in the match towards the end, didn’t go our way there," Mike Bryan said. "I didn’t play my best service game in the fifth. Got broken at love. It can turn on a dime."
The U.S. now turns to Isner, the top-ranked American man in the world at No. 16. He was the hero of the 2012 campaign, when he won both his singles matches against Switzerland and France, with victories over 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and Top 20 players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon.
Courier credited the Brazilians’ efforts and knows both Isner, and Querrey should they need him, will be ready.
"They came out with something to prove and played an extremely high level of doubles," Courier said. "They served a high percentage, particularly when they needed to. I’m sure these guy (Bryans) can play at a higher level. I’m not sure that those guys (Soares, Melo) can. To their credit they played great and deserved to win.
"They’re well-prepared," he added of Isner and Querrey. "They come in with three sets under their belt from yesterday, which is good for their confidence, not damaging to their physical fitness. We feel confident in our chances tomorrow."