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Team USA's Davis Cup rematch vs. Colombia offers shot at redemption
RENO, Nev. — U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish hasn’t had to wait long for a shot at redemption.
It was just three months ago, after all, that Colombia knocked his team out of contention at the 2021 Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals via a humbling 2-1 defeat in Turin, Italy. With a new-look lineup at his disposal, Fish finds himself matched up against Colombia once again in a Davis Cup Qualifier, this time on home turf at the Reno Events Center in Nevada.
Payback is foremost among his thoughts.
“It’s super unique to be able to play a country back-to-back,” said Fish, who took over the captaincy in 2019. “We’re really familiar with them. They’ve got a phenomenal doubles team, one of the best doubles teams in the world. The doubles is a huge point being right in the middle of the tie. But we’ve got our best guys here to kind of put the bad taste of Italy out of our system.”
“We’ve put that behind us. We’re fine to forget about that trip and move forward,” added Fish of the loss in Turin. “We’ve got a home tie here. We’ll get the crowd behind us. We’ll certainly be able to match their intensity. That’s all I can ask of these guys.”
Noticeably absent are John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Frances Tiafoe. Instead, Fish has crafted a roster led by 20th-ranked Taylor Fritz, who in January reached the second week at a major for the first time when he upset Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets at the Australian Open. Joining Fritz are fellow 24-year-old Tommy Paul, ranked a career-high No. 39; 21-year-old Davis Cup debutant Sebastian Korda, ranked No. 40; and the seasoned tandem of Jack Sock/Rajeev Ram, each of whom has multiple major doubles titles to his credit.
“We’ve got some new blood in Sebastian Korda, and some old blood in Jack and Taylor,” said Fish, himself a veteran of 11 Davis Cup ties as a player. “Jack’s been playing Davis Cup for a long time, so he’s seen it all. I’m just trying to get some new guys in the mix. We’re really deep in terms of the guys who can play and compete for us. We’re fortunate in that. That makes my job a bit more difficult to put the right people in the right circumstance, but we’re super happy with this team. I think everybody understands what we were missing in Italy: the passion of wanting to play for your country, wanting to play in this competition, wanting to play for your teammates.”
Nicolas Mejia and the potent duo of Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah return for the Alejandro Falla-led Colombian contingent. Only Alejandro Gonzalez and Nicolas Barrientos didn’t appear the last time these two nations met.
Fritz, 2-1 in his brief Davis Cup career, said he welcomes the added pressure that comes with representing his homeland.
“I feel like it makes me play better and compete harder,” he said. “I’m really excited. I think I play my best tennis in these types of situations.”
The Californian has been on the upswing since reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal last year in Indian Wells, where he saved two match points against then-fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany.
In January, he dismissed Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime and Britain’s Cam Norrie in ATP Cup play, then pushed Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in a bid to reach his first major quarterfinal at the Australian Open.
“Over the past couple of years, I have been slowly improving things and moving up the rankings,” said Fritz, who was the top-ranked American man last month at a career-high No. 16. “What really started clicking for me was the confidence in my forehand, going after it, attacking. That’s kind of pieced together all the other parts of my game. I just have a lot more confidence going for it in the big moments. I think that’s been the biggest difference-maker.”
Sock, at 29 already one of the US team’s senior statesmen, knows he’ll have his hands full when he and Ram take the court against 35-year-old vets and lifelong friends Cabal and Farah, the Wimbledon and US Open men’s doubles champions in 2019. They are the first Colombians to be ranked No. 1 in doubles, qualify for the ATP Finals, and win a Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 title. In November, Sock and Opelka retired mid-match against the same pairing in what amounted to a dead rubber, with both teams unable to advance.
“They’ve had a phenomenal career so far, a lot of great results. They’re always a solid team every year,” observed Sock. “But I definitely trust myself on the doubles court a lot. I’ve only played with Raj once in Turin. I thought we clicked well, opposite styles. We both had a blast playing for our team. I thought we had good energy. I do think we combine well together. We’ve got to play great tennis to beat them because they are solid. I’ll back us most every time.
“I’m an American through and through. I love representing the red, white and blue," he continued. “Anytime I get to put the flag on our shirt, go play, I’ll be there.”
Though the U.S. has lifted the Davis Cup a record 32 times, it’s been a decade-and-a-half since its last triumph. Patrick McEnroe guided Andy Roddick, James Blake, Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan to the title in 2007, when the U.S. topped Russia, 4-1, in Portland.
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