TEAM USA TOPS BELGIUM
AS SOCK AND HARRISON CLINCH
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 7, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The most successful nation in Davis Cup history is back in the World Group semifinals for the first time since 2012.
Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison clinched victory for Team USA with a 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 doubles win over Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegan, giving the U.S. an unassailable 3-0 lead over the 2015 and 2017 finalists in their quarterfinal tie.
Though the American pair are better known for their individual singles prowess, they each lived up to their Top 30 ATP World Tour doubles rankings with the pressure ratcheted up on Saturday.
"Davis Cup is the most intense I ever feel playing doubles," said Harrison, the reigning French Open doubles champion. "We were really excited to play here in Nashville. We felt the energy was great all week."
Saturday's result puts the 32-time Davis Cup champions two steps away from their first title since 2007, when Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan brothers claimed the trophy alongside captain Patrick McEnroe.ADVERTISEMENT
At Belmont University's Curb Event Center, Sock produced the first highlight-reel shot of the match in game two, when he tracked a wide ball near the first-row Belgian contingent and whipped a down-the-line forehand winner.
Set one remained on serve throughout, as the Americans could not punish Vliegan for netting four volleys across several Belgian service games. The world No. 98 doubles player made no mistake when the pressure was on, though, sticking a difficult, low volley to keep the Americans at bay on their only break point of the set at 4-3.
At 5-5, the Belgian break came from nothing, as a pair of Sock double faults helped turn a 40-Love lead into deuce. A pair of errors later – one each from Sock and Harrison – the Belgians sprinted to their bench with a crucial advantage, before Gille wrapped up the set with the third of seven Belgian aces on the night.
Gille and Vliegan enjoyed a lofty 80 percent first-serve percentage in set one, and though that number dropped to 61 percent in set two, the Belgians continued to find success on serve.
Midway through set two, both Vliegan and Sock fought through deuce on their respective serves, but neither team could manufacture a break point as it remained on serve, 4-3.
Just as in the opener, Sock again found himself in trouble when serving at 5-5. Strong Belgian net play set up two break points, but Sock unleashed perhaps the biggest shot of the match when he ripped a down-the-line winner from a vulnerable position deep in the deuce court.
"That was a good shot at that moment, at that stage," said Sock. "Usual play for me in doubles. If the guy brings it across, I can whip it down the line. I kind of stuck with what I had there, my usual play, and it paid off."
The 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion bailed his team out once again at deuce, employing a gutsy topspin lob and a booming serve to secure the hold in a nervy 12-point game.
Sock was again at his best when it mattered most in the tiebreak, steering a backhand-return winner into the vacant alley to put the U.S. in control, 5-1, before the Americans closed it out on Harrison's serve.
Looking to carry that momentum into the third set, Sock uncorked an inside-out forehand pass to set up Love-40 on Gille's serve, but a barrage of big serves kept the Americans in search of their first break.
Lively play and an alert poach from Harrison brought up more break opportunities at 5-5, but Vliegan stood strong to quell the frenzied crowd.
A beautiful display of teamwork opened the tiebreak for the U.S., as the power of Sock combined with the precision of a Harrison lob to set up a crowd-pleasing overhead for an instant mini-break.
Sock followed that up with a pair of vicious forehand winners, before Harrison brought up a host of set points through more attacking baseline play.
This time, it was Sock's turn to wrap up the breaker, 7-3, with a big serve of his own.
Leading 5-4 in the fourth set, the Americans finally made their breakthrough on Gille's serve, stringing together a flurry of strong returns to seal the tie for Team USA with their only break of the match.
With the victory, the Americans now await the winner of Croatia and Kazakhstan in the World Group semifinals, to be played Sept. 14-16. Croatia leads that quarterfinal tie, 2-1, with Croatian No. 1 Marin Cilic looking to clinch the tie against Mikhail Kukushkin on Sunday.
It is a job well-done for the Americans, but their mission is far from over as they bid for their first Davis Cup title in over a decade.
"Definitely not going to look ahead," said Harrison. "We want to take this next match. We know we have all the weapons to get through if we play well. We're going to do what we can to fight through to the final."