© Ron C. Angle
John Isner advances to the Delray Beach quarterfinals.
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
FRIBOURG, Switzerland -- There was the 1992 Davis Cup final, in which the U.S. fielded a dream team of current U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe to defeat the Swiss 3-1 for the title. In 2001, the Swiss team featured a 19-year-old Roger Federer, who won all three points for the squad over the U.S., and in 2009, the U.S. defeated a Federer-less Swiss team 4-1 in Birmingham, Ala.
The two teams now meet for a fourth time this upcoming weekend on an indoor clay court in Fribourg, Switzerland, in what should be another great match-up, with world No. 8 Mardy Fish, No. 17 John Isner, co-world No. 1 doubles player Mike Bryan and rising star Ryan Harrison set to compete against a Swiss team featuring Federer and world No. 28 Stanislas Wawrinka. Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer round out the Swiss squad.
It will be a tough task for the Americans on clay against arguably the second best clay-court player in the game in 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer, who is 7-1 in his ATP career against Fish and 2-0 against Isner, both likely to be the singles players for the U.S.
After a few days practicing on the clay, the U.S. team is getting more comfortable with the surface, which it says is moving fast for a clay court and should suit their power games and serves much better.
Fish is looking to right his season onto a winning track with solid play this weekend, after a disappointing second-round exit at the Australian Open, his only ATP tournament of the year so far.
"Any time you start with a Slam, you are going to want to perform well there. I didn’t play well down there, and I am excited to get back on the court again," Fish said. "I gotta get back on the horse, try to win some matches. There is no better place to do it than here.
"He has been the second best clay-court player in awhile for sure. For a bunch of years, he has been head and shoulders the second best player behind Rafa and has beaten him on clay," he added of Federer. "Clay is obviously one of his strengths. This surface, this altitude and these balls will certainly play a little faster and hopefully help us. He is tough, but he has got his work cut out for him in the first match, as do I. It is a long way from Sunday."
Isner has played in just six career Davis Cup matches and only four in singles, but he is relishing the opportunity to be back on the squad and to play against Federer, and he knows the U.S. team is capable of coming away with a victory.
"Most of the time you are out there playing for yourself, so any time you get in a team environment, play for these guys, play for Captain Courier and play for your country, it is really an honor," he said. "You just want to go out there and compete your hardest. That is the only thing you can control is how you compete, so I think that is what all of us are going to do."
The U.S. Davis Cup team has had the utmost confidence in Mike and Bob Bryan as its doubles team over the years, but Bob is not competing in Fribourg, as his wife just gave birth to their first child, a daughter. Mike instead will likely play with Fish on Saturday in the doubles rubber, probably against Federer and Wawrinka, who won the gold medal in doubles together at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This is just the second time Mike has played Davis Cup with someone other than Bob, although the first time was also with Fish, when they defeated Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in five sets in the 2008 semifinals against Spain on outdoor clay. Overall, Mike Bryan is 19-3 in his Davis Cup career and 19-2 in doubles and knows Fish, Isner or Harrison would also do a great job as his partner.
Just whom his doubles partner is could depend on what the score is after the first day of play Friday and whether the matches go three, four or five sets.
"I have only played with one other person the last 10 years, and that was Mardy," he said. "And we won in five sets. So it is possible to play with someone besides my brother. I think Mardy is just as good, if not better. He is not a lefty, but he is a great doubles player. All these guys up here can play great doubles. It is a great challenge, and I am looking forward to it."
Federer is 41-12 in his Davis Cup career and says he feels good entering the tie, despite having a back problem earlier in the year that forced him to withdraw from his first tournament in Doha, although he roared back to reach the Australian Open semifinals, where he lost in four sets to Rafael Nadal.
"I feel well. A bit of a freight with my back early on, but now I feel much better again, and I am positive it is going to hold up," he said. "I am in a good state mentally and physically, and I have had a great run since last year’s US Open. I had not lost until the other week. It was a good period for me, and I hope I can get back in winning ways this weekend. Here in Switzerland, it is nice we got home-court advantage, and we will try to make the best of it and see where it takes us."
He is also hoping a strong Davis Cup tie against the U.S. will send him back on a great win streak, much like it did back in 2001 and also like he had to close out 2011, when he finished with a win at the season-ending ATP Tour Finals.
"2001 was a big win for me and a tough tie within the team for Switzerland, but we came out on top. I think it was my first emotional outburst on a tennis court because I was so exhausted on Sunday after my singles, doubles and singles," he said. "It definitely got me on winning ways. I beat Sampras at Wimbledon (in five sets). It was a start of great things for me, and I am happy to be playing in a tie again."
The U.S. knows it will not be easy to beat a Federer-led team, but everyone is going to fight his hardest and would not have come all the way to Switzerland in February if they did not believe they could win.
"Any time you are playing against a team that has Roger as part of the squad, it is going to be tough, and we are not playing at home. But we are definitely capable of coming out here, playing well and coming out with a win," Isner said. "That is why we traveled all this way. We certainly have our work cut out for us. It is not the easiest match, for sure, but we are looking forward to it, and we are all going to take the court confident and see what we can do."