U.S. SWEEPS BELGIUM,
awaits Croatia in Davis Cup semis
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 8, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Team USA made noise in the Music City this weekend, booking a place in the Davis Cup World Group semifinals for the first time since 2012 with a 4-0 victory over 2015 and 2017 finalists Belgium.
John Isner and Sam Querrey gave the Americans an early 2-0 lead with singles wins, before Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison clinched the tie with a doubles victory on Saturday. For good measure, Harrison completed the sweep with a singles victory of his own in Sunday's dead rubber, as captain Jim Courier's team completed a perfect weekend.
Despite the 4-0 scoreline, the undermanned Belgian team provided a stiff test for the Americans.
"We knew it was going to be a tough weekend, even though we were favorites," said Sock.
"Davis Cup is a different animal. In normal tournaments, if you're a favorite, you may be able to win more comfortably. ADVERTISEMENT But in Davis Cup, players always seem to rise to the occassion and play their best tennis."
The proceedings kicked off on Thursday with distinctive Nashville fanfare, as a pre-draw concert warmed up the stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame before the order of play was revealed.
When the tie began with singles on Friday, both matches followed a similar script. Isner and Querrey each started strong before their Belgian opponents raised their games in two entertaining battles.
In what was, on paper, the biggest mismatch of the weekend, Belgian No. 2 Joris De Loore put a scare into Isner and the Nashville crowd by taking a second-set tiebreak before breaking to take an early lead in set three. The 6-foot-10 American would eventually recover to dismiss the world No. 319, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, and give the Americans an early 1-0 lead.
The top-ranked American, who sits at a career-high No. 9 in the ATP World Rankings after claiming his first Masters 1000 title in Miami, was quick to credit the Nashville crowd for energizing the team.
"For us players to have them on our side when we're out there playing, it means everything. These people showed up all weekend, and we appreciate that."
Querrey was even more dominant in a 6-1 opening set against Belgian No. 1 Ruben Bemelmans, but like De Loore before him, Bemelmans was able to force a tiebreak in set two.
This time, the American was able to edge the breaker, 7-5, before closing out a 6-1, 7-6, 7-5 win to put Team USA in control of the tie.
With an opportunity to clinch on Saturday, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison recovered from a set down to beat doubles specialists Sandre Gille and Joran Vliegan, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4, to secure their team's semifinal place.
Timely shotmaking from Sock erased two break points at 5-5 in set two, as the Belgians threatened to take a two-sets-to-none lead. The Americans were at their best when it mattered most, though, winning both tiebreaks and securing their first break of the match in the final game to effectively end the tie.
In Sunday's dead rubber, Harrison made it 4-0 for Team USA with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Bemelmans. The world No. 54 recovered from a break down early in set one, and fought off four break points late in set two to close out the sweep in one hour, five minutes.
After the match, Team USA showed their appreciation for the Nashville fans by inviting all children in attendance onto the court for an autograph signing that lasted nearly an hour.
The U.S. can now look forward to an away semifinal tie against Croatia, after world No. 3 Marin Cilic sealed victory over Kazakhstan on Sunday with a straight-sets victory over Mikhail Kukushkin on red clay in Varzadin, Croatia.
The Croatia team, which also includes ATP Next Generation star and world No. 28 Borna Coric, will have its choice of court surface and venue for the tie to be played Sept. 14-16.
It will be a rematch of the 2016 World Group quarterfinal in Beaverton, Ore., when the Croatians stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to stun an American team that included Isner and Sock.
"They're a very, very experienced team," said Isner. "That was a tough pill for us to swallow, but we're going to be ready for the challenge."
Sock shared his teammate's quiet confidence.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge, especially in their home country," he said. "But I think we're up for the occassion. We have the weapons and guys to do it."
France will host Spain in the opposite semi, with the final to be played Nov. 23-25.
The Americans are looking to end a drought of more than a decade by claiming the 2018 title. For a generation of players that has yet to taste Davis Cup glory, the flag continues to fly, as opportunity knocks.