By Jason Brown, USTA.com BELGRADE, Serbia
– In a valiant effort that will cement a place in every U.S. Davis Cup fan’s heart, rookie John Isner took the second-ranked player in the world the distance but came up just a bit short, falling to Novak Djokovic in five pulsating sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4.
Before a partisan crowd at Belgrade Arena, the largest of the series, Serbia captured a historic result, its first-ever Davis Cup World Group victory in just its third appearance.
With the final score 3-2 in the best-of-five first round series, Serbia advanced to play in the quarterfinals, July 9-11, against national rival Croatia.
After a slow start, Isner leveled the match, breaking Djokovic on the first service game of the second set. Then, in the fourth set, serving at 4-5 to keep the U.S. alive in the series, Isner played some of his gutsiest tennis with a critical hold.
In the subsequent tie-break, Djokovic was unable to reach a drop shot and in frustration, launched the ball deep into the crowd. Following earlier racquet abuse, Djokovic incurred a second code violation that resulted in a point penalty, a two-point swing to Isner.
“I knew I was going to have to play my hardest out there today to have any chance,” said Isner, who went 1-2 in the series, including an important doubles win to keep the series alive with Bob Bryan.
“It’s good experience, but it’s a little bit disappointing. They had three points and I lost two of them so it’s tough to swallow in that regard,” he added. “I really would have liked to pull one of those matches out, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
A surprise serve-and-volley tactic by Isner surprised Djokovic, forcing a deciding fifth set. Rock-solid on serve with 24 aces, Isner served up a rare double-fault that led to a Djokovic break.
Djokovic needed six match points to close out Isner, who struck a forehand into the net to give the home nation the win. The American dynamo played with poise throughout the match, and gained immeasurable international playing experience along the way.
“This one is a loss that I can be proud of,” Isner said. “Any time that I lose a match, I want to be able to say that I can be proud of how I played. I can’t say that all the time, but today, I can say that. I can improve from this loss and learn from it.”
Isner played on three consecutive days, a first for the 24-year-old North Carolina native.
“I can’t think of a time where I played this much tennis in three days, every match over three hours and this one over four hours,” said Isner, who totaled 10 hours and 58 minutes of court time.
The 136th player to wear a United States Davis Cup uniform, Isner joined an elite fraternity which includes, to name a few, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe, Bob and Mike Bryan, Michael Chang, Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, Stan Smith and Bill Tilden.
“Watching Andy (Roddick) and James (Blake) the last six or seven years playing Davis Cup, they kind of inspire everybody who plays tennis in America,” said Isner. “Everybody wants to be on the stage that I was just on. I competed my hardest, and I know that’s what they would have done.”
In the series finale, Sam Querrey defeated Viktor Troicki, 7-5, 6-2.
On Saturday, with Mike Bryan back at the team hotel suffering from a nasty case of food poisoning, the patchwork pair of Bob Bryan and Isner defeated Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic and Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6 (8), 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-3.
In the series opener, Troicki spoiled Isner’s U.S. debut, defeating him in four sets, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4.
Playing in the second singles role, Querrey tested Djokovic, the world’s second-ranked player, but fell short, succumbing in four sets, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-3.
The eight losing nations in the 2010 World Group First Round (United States, Ecuador, Germany, India, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel or Chile) and the eight successful nations from Zone Group I compete in the 2010 World Group Play-offs on September 17-19.
The eight winners of these ties qualify for the 2011 World Group while the losers participate in their respective Zone Group I events in 2011.
The United States lost for the first time in the first round since 2005 when an Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic-led Croatian team upset the Americans on home turf at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
To keep its place in the elite 16-team field competing for the ultimate prize, the Davis Cup trophy, the United States defeated Belgium in the World Group Play-offs, 4-1.
Playing on indoor red clay in Leuven, Andy Roddick won one of the most memorable Davis Cup matches of his career, defeating Olivier Rochus in a five-set thriller.
The draw for the World Group Play-offs take place on Wednesday, May 12 with nations seeded according to the Davis Cup Nations Ranking. USA vs. Serbia Order of Play
R1 – Viktor Troicki (SRB) def. John Isner (USA), 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4
R2 – Novak Djokovic (SRB) def. Sam Querrey (USA), 6-2, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-3
R3 – Bob Bryan/John Isner (USA) def. Janko Tipsarevic/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB), 7-6 (8), 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-3
R4 – Novak Djokovic (SRB) def. John Isner (USA), 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4
R5 – Sam Querrey (USA) vs. Viktor Troicki (SRB) World Group First Round Scoreboard
Serbia defeats United States, 3-1
Croatia defeats Ecuador, 4-0
Spain defeats Switzerland, 4-1
France defeats Germany, 4-1
Russia defeats India, 3-2
Argentina defeats Sweden, 3-2
Chile leads Israel, 2-0
Czech Republic defeats Belgium, 3-1