By Jason Brown, USTA.com
MOSCOW – Surprise substitute Dmitry Tursunov earned host Russia a berth in the 2006 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final, defeating a valiant Andy Roddick in five grueling sets, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 17-15.
"Davis Cup losses are the toughest, because you’re not playing for selfish reasons or selfish motivations,” said Roddick, whose career Davis Cup singles record dipped to 20-9 after opening the year strong in team wins over Romania and Chile.
“You feel like you let your teammates down and your country down. It’s not an easy thing, especially to fight back all that way and to lose. It’s tough.”
The marathon match, lasting four hours and forty-eight minutes, was the longest match in U.S. Davis Cup history since the introduction of the tiebreaker in 1989.
“When you’re coming up at the five-hour mark, I promise you that neither one of us was feeling fresh, especially when you add in the tension and nervousness of Davis Cup,” said Roddick. “That gets into you a little bit more.”
After drawing within a point of trying Russia in the best-of-five semifinal series, the U.S. needed a minor miracle on Sunday, trying to come back from a 0-2 deficit for just the second time in team history.
In 1934, the Davis Cup team overcame the odds to defeat Australia on grass at Wimbledon, but overall, the U.S. is 1-33 when they needed to produce three straight wins.
Surprised to see Tursunov on the other side of the net instead of his scheduled opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, Roddick was blitzed by Tursunov’s go-for-broke tactics, and promptly dropped the first and second sets.
“I would say surprised,” said McEnroe, describing his team's reaction to Russia’s change. “I think we all thought that it would be either Davydenko or Youzhny, but we all know Tursunov well and have a lot of respect for his game. But I don’t think it really had an effect on how Andy went into the match. Dmitry came out on fire, playing big and really with no pressure.”
Nikolay Davydenko, the first choice of Captain Shamil Tarpischev’s to take Youzhny’s place in the reverse singles match against Roddick, was unable to play because of a fever, but that might have been a blessing in disguise for Russia.
A day after being exposed because of his poor net play in a lackluster straight-set loss to Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States in the doubles rubber, Tursunov was a new man, back on familiar singles ground.
On his fifth break attempt, Tursunov converted on an unforced forehand error by Roddick, breaking the American in his first service game of the match.
The second set wasn’t much better for Roddick as Tursunov quickly gathered three break point chances in the third game. The crowd of 10,000 fans inside the Olympic Stadium erupted on a crackling inside-out forehand.
Falling behind by two sets as he did in a straight-set loss to Marat Safin on Friday, Roddick changed his strategy and began applying pressure on Tursunov, winning the third and fourth sets by being more aggressive with his forehands and forays to the net.
“I definitely wasn’t going to give up,” said Roddick. “I was going to try to make him earn it.”
Serving for the match at 6-5 in the final set, Roddick could smell the finish line, but fell behind 15-40 off a pair of forehand winners from Tursunov. Up against a pair of break points, Roddick defended the first, but struck an errant backhand that dead-locked the match.
With no fifth-set tie-break in Davis Cup play, the match turned into a war of wills. A set that carried on a remarkable 32 games (just eight less than the entire total through the first four sets) and spanned the length of two hours and 15 minutes, the match re-wrote the history books.
Breaking his own record set a year ago on September 25 against Olivier Rochus of Belgium on clay in Leuven, Roddick surpassed his old mark by 16 minutes.
As the encounter inched toward the five-hour mark, Roddick and Tursunov began to fatigue. Tursunov, who managed to snap four racket strings, was treated for cramping in his leg, but found new life leading 16-15. Jumping out on Roddick's serve, 0-30, Tursunov coolly hit a backhand winner on his second match point, and his teammates rushed onto the court to embrace the victor.
"I was so impressed by the effort of both players,” said U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe after the match.
“Andy was able to come back from two sets down, and he just laid everything on the line. It was just a classic match, an epic match. Both guys were really feeling it at the end, and I was so proud of Andy’s effort. Not just his effort, but the way that he fought back into the match and I think he should really take a lot of positives out of this going forward.”
In the final match of the best-of-five series, a dead rubber with the outcome already decided, James Blake defeated Marat Safin, 7-5, 7-6(4), to complete the final result, three points to two in favor of Russia.
Clay courts on the road have become the one obstacle that the U.S. hasn’t been able to solve. After convincing home wins, defeating Romania on hard court and Chile on grass, McEnroe’s team lacked the consistency required to win on slow clay courts.
“We have to think a little bit more on clay. We have to be a little more patient as opposed to a faster court playing more with instinct. I think our players hopefully will learn that it’s possible to play well over a longer period of time,” said McEnroe, who also cited the recent torrid playing schedule which included the US Open, completed just days before the team had to travel to Moscow.
A steadying influence captaining a young and improving team over his six-year tenure, McEnroe has formed a coheasive four-man unit, but nothing short of a breakthrough result against a big-time nation would provide him with greater satisfaction.
“One of these years, we’re going to win one of these big matches on the road,” said McEnroe.
An outcome decided on Saturday, Argentina defeated Australia in the other semifinal, three points to zero, clinching the South American nation’s first trip to the final in 25 years.
Jose Acasuso outlasted Lleyton Hewitt in a match that had been suspended because of darkness and was completed on Saturday. David Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri then defeated Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley of Australia in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, giving the hosts an insurmountable 3-0 advantage.
Russia will now host Argentina in the 2006 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final, Decemeber 1-3, and will presumably select a fast surface to act as a foil to Argentina’s bevy of clay players.
The draw for the 2007 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group will be announced on Thursday, September 28. The United States, a seeded nation, is likely to get an away match for the first round taking place next February.