By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
BOISE, Idaho – Sam Querrey took the court with some weight on his shoulders. Novak Djokovic had already defeated John Isner in the opening match of the Davis Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. and Serbia, and Querrey knew a 2-0 deficit against a team featuring the world’s No. 1 player would be a tough hurdle to overcome.
But Querrey, the American No. 1, took the court confident and was equal to the task. He battled back from a two-sets-to-one deficit to even the tie, 1-1, with a 7-6 (1), 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Serbian No. 2 Viktor Troicki in a match that last more than three hours and was played in front of 8,000-plus vocal fans at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho.
The victory was Querrey's fourth in his Davis Cup career and his third consecutive win in a live rubber. He won both his singles matches in the U.S.’s 3-2 win over Brazil in the first round in February – including a victory in the fifth-and-deciding match – which he thought helped him Friday.
"It feels great to help the team out, to tie it up," Querrey said. "I think the [final] match in Jacksonville for me, the pressure of that match helped a little bit out here today. I'm feeling confident. I stayed positive and kept with the game plan and played aggressive."
U.S. Captain Jim Courier could not have been more pleased with how Querrey handled the situation.
"When you lose the first match the pressure does shift onto Sam's shoulders, but he handled it beautifully," Courier said. "We're real proud of him as a team, and he should be real proud of himself for that effort."
Troicki took a two-sets-to-one lead after upping his level of play in the second and third sets, closing out the third with back-to-back aces. But behind the hugely supportive Boise crowd, Querrey battled back. He broke Troicki early in the fourth set and staved off a few break points on his serve to consolidate the break. And with momentum shifting, Querrey consistently came up with giant serves when needed in the fourth to force a decisive fifth set.
Querrey then fought himself out of trouble early in the final set, denying Troicki two break points to hold serve to 2-all. At 4-all, Troicki put himself down with three straight errors to give the American two chances to break. He saved one with an ace, but Querrey would not be denied, hitting a forehand return that forced a Troicki error. Querrey served out the match from there.
"[The] second and third sets just one too many errors and let him back in it," Querrey said. "The 1-2 game was huge [in the fourth]. I didn't make many first serves, but battled through and won that game. I felt like I had the momentum back in my favor. Then I felt like I was always in on his service games, and then finally there at 4-all [in the fifth] was able to get a break and then close it out. The crowd helped a ton. My teammates helped a ton."
Djokovic won the opening match, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-5, overcoming a slow start to defeat the big-serving Isner. The American broke the world No. 1 in the third game for the early lead – but it was an advantage which turned out to be short-lived. Djokovic broke back a few games later in what turned out to be a crucial turning point when Isner missed a forehand wide for 3-all.
The form that makes Djokovic arguably the world’s best returner began to show in the second set as the Serb was consistently was able to gain points with passing shots, effectively returning his opponent’s booming offerings while Isner struggled to land a high percentage of first serves.
"I think after the first set, he became a lot more comfortable," Isner said. "He started playing really well. I just had to do my best to hold onto that little lead I had [in the first set]. I let him back in it. Granted, he played a good game but I didn’t make many first serves that game. That was critical."
The U.S. next turns to the world No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, who own a 20-3 Davis Cup record together, to give them the lead Saturday. They will face former doubles No .1 Nenad Zimonjic, yet who his partner is may not be decided until an hour before match time. Iliya Bozoljac was nominated for doubles, with the Bryans and Courier expecting Troicki to actually play. But after Troicki played five sets Friday, Djokovic could get the call.
"We have a lot of confidence in them," Courier said of the Bryans. "They've earned that. We have full trust that they'll go out there and deliver a great performance. It's not a guaranteed victory, but you feel good as a team being able to put them forward. I mean, they're the greatest. Period."