Sam Querrey gave the U.S. Davis Cup team an early lead on Friday with an inspired win over Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci.
© Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
John Isner kept the U.S. out in front with a booming serve to fend off Thiago Alves and put the U.S. on the edge of victory.
© Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- John Isner had not played a competitive tennis match in nearly a month before taking the court at the Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena Friday as the No. 1 singles player for the U.S. Davis Cup team.
But Isner shook off the rust and 62 unforced errors, many with his usually dominant forehand, relying on his overpowering serve to pull himself out of trouble and propelling him to a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over Thiago Alves. The victory, in the first home Davis Cup match of Isner's caeer, gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead over Brazil in the best-of-five, first-round tie .
On the day, the world No. 16 smacked 32 aces, picking up where Sam Querrey -- also making his Davis Cup home debut -- left off. Querrey used his a dominant serve of his own to defeat Thomaz Bellucci, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, to give the U.S. the early 1-0 lead.
Isner was a question mark heading into the week. He suffered a bone bruise at the Hopman Cup in in early January and was forced to pull out of the Australian Open. But after a strong week of practice and no pain in the knee, he told U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier that he was good to go.
Match play, however, was another matter, and Isner admitted that he may not be his sharpest to start the tie. Those words proved true, as his touch on shots and his footwork were a little off at times. But with the best serve in men’s tennis, he didn’t disappoint the home crowd.
"I didn’t expect today honestly to come out and just be lights out," Isner said. "I knew I was going to have to rely on my serve a lot, but it was certainly choppy out there at times. I littered up the stat sheet for sure. I had a lot of aces, had a lot of souvenirs into the crowd as well on my forehand. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but I knew that may be the case going into this match today because I’m real short on match practice, real short on practice in general."
"It didn’t bother me today," he added of his knee. "I wasn’t thinking about it. That’s really crucial. I was very happy with how my knee felt. I think us as a team; we made a good decision [to keep me in the lineup]."
The match swung in Isner's favor in the second-set tie-break. Alves jumped out to a 3-1 lead after a few errors from Isner. A volley winner and a hard serve off Alves’ racquet brought it to 3-all, and Isner took his first lead with another ace to make it 4-3. He never trailed from there, closing out the breaker and the set with back-to-back aces.
Isner struck first in the third set. Leading 3-2, he hit a forehand winner to set up two break chances. And after the best rally of the match, Alves pushed a shot long to give the American No. 1 a 4-2 lead. Three games later Isner had his first home Davis Cup home win.
"I wasn’t going after it hard enough," Isner said of his forehand. "If you don’t swing full out, if I swing 85 percent out, it’s really not good. I was maybe a little bit tense. That second set, it could have gone either way. If I didn’t have my serve, it probably would have gone his way. But all in all, I’m very happy with the outcome and glad I was able to contribute today."
The opening match featured a solid all-around effort from Querrey, whose power on serve stood out. He never dropped serve or faced a single break point, serving 15 aces and winning 96 percent of the points when getting his first serve in play.
Querrey’s power off the fast court bothered Bellucci, the world No. 36, throughout the match. The Brazilian No. 1 struggled with errors, particularly on his forehand side, spraying 43 unforced errors to 30 winners.
The pace of the match began unevenly, with few long rallies or points. Querrey struck first in the first set when Bellucci double faulted to give the American a 5-3 lead, which quickly turned into a first-set win when Querrey held at love.
Querrey ended the first set on a three-game win streak and pushed it to five with a break of Bellucci in the opening game of the second, quickly followed by a hold. The rallies and points picked up as the second and third sets progressed, but Bellucci was no closer to gaining on the American’s serve and Querrey closed out the match with another hold at love when a shot from the Brazilian failed to clear the net.
Bob and Mike Bryan, fresh off their record-setting 13th Grand Slam title at the 2013 Australian Open, now look to clinch the tie for the U.S. tomorrow when they face doubles world No. 16 Marcelo Melo and world No. 19 Bruno Soares in the doubles rubber. The Bryans are 1-2 in their career against Melo and Soares, but after 10 years on the Davis Cup team and a 20-2 record together, they inspire nothing short of confidence.
"We’re certainly pleased to be in this position," Courier said. "We have a lot of confidence in Bob and Mike. They’re going to go out and lay it on the line. It will take a really special effort to beat them. The Brazilian team is capable of that. It’s trite, it’s true. We need three more sets, so we’re going to focus on that some way, somehow."