U.S. defeated by Italy
in Davis Cup Finals group play
Arthur Kapetanakis | November 26, 2021
Playing in their opening group-stage match at the 2021 Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals, Team USA was beaten, 2-1, by hosts Italy at Pala Alpitour Arena in Turin on Friday. Americans Reilly Opelka and John Isner were stopped in straight sets by Davis Cup debutants Lorenzo Sonego and Jannik Sinner, respectively, as Italy clinched the tie before the doubles match.
In the doubles rubber, Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram salvaged a point for the U.S. by beaing Fabio Fognini and Lorenzo Musetti. That crucial result keeps Team USA very much alive in the competition, as Ram picked up a win in his Davis Cup debut.
Despite the defeat, Team USA could still advance to the quarterfinals as Group E winners should the Italians fall to Colombia on Saturday, and the U.S. beats Colombia in dominant fashion on Sunday. In that scenario, the group-winner would be determined based on matches, sets and games won in the two ties. ADVERTISEMENT The two best runners-up from the six Davis Cup Finals groups will also advance to the quarters, with those two teams also determined by matches, sets and games won.
"You can't lose 3-0 and advance and be one of those wild card teams," captain Mardy Fish said after the match. "We sort of went out there [into doubles] thinking we need to try to win four in a row, and that was the first one of four."
On the near-flawless singles performance from the hosts, who committed just four unforced errors across the two matches, Fish later added: "The Italians played incredibly well today. They would have beaten probably every country in the world today the way they played singles."
Sonego edges Opelka
The matchup between Opelka and Sonego pitted the world No. 26 against the world No. 27, and the contest was as tight as their rankings would suggest, with the Italian securing a 6-3, 7-6 victory.
"It's for sure my best tennis game in my life," said Sonego, "because I play at home. I live 200 meters from here. This for me is an amazing, amazing moment. Yeah, I enjoyed every single moment in the court."
Michigan native Opelka and the Turin-born Sonego played out a tight match that saw just one break on a total of five break points, four of them for the Italian. Opelka's lone break point came first, at 3-all in the first set, but Sonego fired a big serve to save it before pumping his fist to the Italian crowd. The world No. 27's escape on serve helped propel him to the crucial break in the ensuing game, after which he comfortably served out the set.
Set two saw just one break point, when Soengo crafted an opening in the seventh game. The stanza would go to a tiebreak, where Sonego ripped off the first three points to gain an advantage he would soon see home. The final eight points of the breaker went on serve, with the Italian taking the last two points to close out the set and match with a 7-4 decision.
The 26-year-old Sonego played a remarkably clean match with just one unforced error, while Opelka was tops on the winners count, 11 to 10.
"Now it's Sinner time," Sonego said as he prepared to watch his compatriot take on Isner.
Sinner downs Isner
World No. 10 Sinner's win over No. 24 Isner was more decisive, with the 20-year-old racing to a 6-2, 6-0 result.
"I definitely ran up against a buzz saw today," Isner said following the match. "He was entirely too good. I didn't really have a chance out there. There's not many times I can think back where I didn't at least give myself a shot, a chance to maybe turn things around in a match. That was the case today.
"Of course all the credit goes to him," Isner added. "He's an incredible talent, and I think more importantly than that, he's a very,very nice kid, too."
With Isner needing a victory to keep the Americans' hopes of victory alive, he opened against Sinner by saving three break points in a five-deuce game. Unfortunately, Sinner's early return threat was the start of a match-long pattern, as he consistently caused trouble in the big-hitting Isner's service games. The world No. 11 quickly secured a break in the match's third game and took the opener by a two-break margin after dropping just two points on his own serve.
Another eventful start kicked off set two, as Sinner broke to 15 but then fell behind, love-40 in his first service game of the stanza. But those would be the only service points the Italian dropped in the set. He won five in a row to hold (starting a run of 13 straight on serve), then broke Isner from 40-15 to take full command.
"It means a lot because I'm playing for our country, something different," Sinner said of the win on his debut in this competition. "You play not alone, you play for a group. You have a lot of responsibility.
"I think today I really played well. I mean, I didn't miss many balls. I felt well on court today, which I think helped me a lot. Obviously returning that well against John is never easy. Today I've done that very, very well so I'm very happy."
Even after the defeat, Isner was quick to credit the Italian crowd and the atmosphere on the court: "The crowd was super fun to play in front of. I wish I could have given them something to, you know, cheer against me for or something. I thought the crowd was great, super patriotic for Italy... We haven't, in the last two years, we haven't had many atmospheres like that. Super fun crowd to play in front of.
"The people in this city are very passionate about their sport, and I think it showed today."
Sock, Ram win in first match as a duo
Needing a win to keep hope alive for the U.S., Sock and Ram put some smiles back on the faces of their teammates with a stylish, 7-6, 6-2, victory over Fognini and Musetti. They took a 7-5 tiebreak in a no-break opening set before opening up a double-break lead in set two.
The pair's contrasting styles of doubles proved formidable as a pairing. The Americans had faced each other in doubles three times, but never competed as a team prior to Friday's match.
"I have my style of doubles, Raj has his style of doubles," Sock said, explaining the partnership. "We're very polar opposite in doubles. I think it actually goes very well together.
"If we're at the baseline, they see a ball from Raj, an inch over the net coming a hundred miles an hour, they see my forehand and RPMs and dipping at them. I think it's pretty tough on the guys. He has such good hands, your standard doubles, serve and volley, and then I'm staying back. We worked on basically how to throw that together and throw the kitchen sink at them. We were able to do that. I think we meshed together well. Excited for the next one."
For Ram, the victory took on added significance as it came in his Davis Cp debut: "It's incredible. It's something I wanted to do my whole career, my whole life really. Being a tennis player, fan, all that.
"Just to be on the team, to be able to go out there and play and get a point for us, when, as Mardy said, it's still vital. Just because we didn't win the tie doesn't mean we can't advance. It was awesome. I really look forward to the next one as well."
USA vs. Colombia will be played on Sunday, not before 10 a.m. ET. The first two hours of that tie will air on Pluto TV, with CBS Sports Network picking up coverage after that.
"Big opportunity for us," Fish previewed. "They've got a great doubles team. They've got some young players that will play. We're going to throw everything we've got at it.
"We need to win 3-0 and we need to maybe get some luck [to advance]. I don't know how the other groups look. We certainly need to win three matches... I think we have the team to do it."