The wonder of Tennis Channel and Versus Channel brought recent late-round
Davis Cup action to watchers here in America.
Both favored nations advanced in semi-final play, September 21-23, 2007. A strong
U.S. team defeated Sweden in Gothenborg, and the Russians in Moscow defeated
Germany by an unexpected script. Both meets were well contested but both
were marred by sicknesses sidelining one or more principals on the third day.
Both were conducted with high sportsmanship among the players, an absence of
acrimony, and plenty of enthusiasm by the watchers. Electronic line-call
systems were absent. Such a system was not needed on the Moscow clay but was missed
RUSSIA 3, GERMANY 2
The red clay court inside Olympic Stadium, Moscow, seemed heavy, the bounce
on the slow side. Conditions called for heavy doses of topspin, speeding up
bounces that might otherwise invite an opponent's attack. In the first match the
player with the right medicine was Moscow-born Igor Andreev, 24, whose
backhand two-hander and frying-pan-grip on the forehand seemed to produce effortless
topspin. His firm and consistent shots, directed with unrelenting accuracy,
seemed to fly forward off the bounce. His opponent, Tommy Haas, who ranked much
higher in the year-to-date points race, was the lesser player this date from
start to finish. Andreev d. Haas 62 62 62. Russia 1, Germany 0.
The lower-ranked player prevailed in the second match as well. Nicolay
Davydenko, the favorite and world #4, started well enough, claiming the tiebreak
game ending the first set. But then Nicolay, who was the slightly more aggressive
player throughout, entered a long run of excess errors, allowing his
opponent, Philipp Kohlschreiber, to claim the second and third sets. Davydenko then
found his control, continuing his attacking style, equalizing by winning the
fourth set. Kohlschreiber answered with what was then his only area of
superiority, his serving. (He led his opponent in total aces, and more than half his
total came in set five.) It was enough to lift the German through a thrilling
final set where the lead shifted back and forth. Philipp produced the better
control of his shotmaking in a tight finish. Perhaps the narrow difference came
from Davydenko's busy summer schedule, including his competing in Beijing the
previous week right after a busy U.S. Open. Kohlschreiber d. Davydenko 67 62 62
46 75. Russia 1, Germany 1.
Slightly favored in the doubles was the Russian pair--the reliable Youzhny
and the free-spirited, hard-hitting Tursunov. Both were highly ranked as singles
performers, though both had competed in doubles fairly regularly. On the
German side was Alexander Waske, 22, who had been on the winning side in six of
his seven past Davis Cup doubles matches. Waske's first-time partner, in his
first Cup appearance, was Bayreuth-born Philipp Petzschner, 23.
The Germans won the first set, the Russians won the second and thus had the
momentum going forward. It gradually became evident that neither Russian player
was a natural doubles artist. Youzhny usually stayed on the baseline after
delivering either a first or second serve, and it was his serving games that
were most vulnerable. Tursunov, on the other hand, had a tendency to seek winners
outright, usually using extra power. His boldness produced some superb
successes but also an unsatisfactory number of avoidable errors. Meanwhile it was
Petzschner who became the strongest player on the court, showing excellent
doubles instincts and comparable racket skills. In the third and fourth sets, both
sides had several service-break opportunities, but neither could convert so
that both sets went to tiebreakers. When partner Waske hurt his elbow in the
third set and thereafter served with reduced power, the burden fell on the Cup
rookie, who responded well. Oddly, the slow velocity of Waske's serves seemed to
bother the Russians, especially Youzhny, and the Germans captured both
tiebreakers to collect the win. Petzschner-Waske d. Tursunov-Youzhny 63 36 76 76.
Germany 2, Russia 1.
The fourth rubber was supposed to pit the Friday losers--Haas and Davydenko.
But Haas was ill and sat out this day and Davydenko too remained on the
sidelines, perhaps by plan. Their replacements were Philipp Petzschner and Mikhail
Youzhny. Petzschner had been the better player in the previous day's doubles,
but Youzhny's remarkable record in past Davis Cup play and his higher current
ranking suggested that this could be a mismatch. Youzhny was a first-tenner in
the rankings, Petzschner resided in the third hundred.
It was assuredly no mismatch. Petzschner performed well, showing firm
serving, excellent court movement, and a willingness, indeed inclination, to come to
net. But net was not especially the place to be on this clay surface. The
newcomer made it interesting, and there were many wonderful points to please all
watchers. But Youzhny's strong, all-court play produced a convincing four-set
win. Youzhny d. Petzschner 64 64 36 63. Russia 2, Germany 2.
The fifth and deciding match-up brought together the heros of the first day,
Andreev and Kohlschreiber. Again the dominating element as play unfolded was
the extreme topspin of Andreev, not only on his groundstrokes but especially in
his commanding serve. The sheer energy of Igor's hitting kept Kohlschreiber
at disadvantage, and although the score stayed always close, too often the
German player failed to return one of Igor's blows even from good hitting position
only because of the potency of Igor's overspin and velocity. Philipp held his
composure, however, and captured the second set off a momentary weakening of
Igor's consistency and a hard-to-believe serve-return winner of surpassing
splendor at break point.
Andreev's dominance resumed with consecutive service breaks early in set
three. But early in the fourth set, some of the thunder again faded from the
Russian's bombardments. But the respite for Philipp was only temporary. The heavy
blows soon resumed, sometimes causing causing Kohlschreiber's swing to be a
shade late and his shot to drift across a sideline. The games were now often
reaching deuce, sometimes repeated deuces, a rarity earlier. Kohschreiber began
feeding his opponent a diet of short, low-bouncing balls to the backhand,
carrying heavy slice, a tactic which often produced winning points for the German.
But it was not enough. Andreev reached match point at forty-love, and though a
few more minutes would be needed, he finally closed out matters not by caution
but by again combining weight and accuracy in attack. Andreev d.
Kohlschreiber 63 36 60 63. Russia 3, Germany 2.
If the expected nation had triumphed, the process had scarcely been what most
observers had imagined.
U.S.A. 4, SWEDEN 1
Over the preceding several decades the Swedes had defeated visiting American
teams at the Gothenburg Scandinavium three times without loss. I watched the
current matches at that arena several hours after their completion, generally
after watching the simultaneous events in Moscow as they happened.
Andy Roddick and Joachim Johansson provided a match-up of two players both of
whom were superior servers and ordinary serve-returners, locked together on a
fast indoor surface. The result was play almost wholly dominated by the
serving. The two had met three years earlier, at U.S. Open, where the Swedish
player won, enroute to a ranking in the world's top ten. Injuries, mainly to the
shoulder, had limited Joachim's competitive play since then. Indeed Joachim had
not played a tour match since January 07.
There were no service-breaks for the first two sets. Only rarely did a point
last more than two or three racket-strikes. In the sixth game of the match,
Joachim faced love-forty, but he promptly delivered three untouched service aces
followed by an unreturned near-ace and yet another ace. Meanwhile Andy when
serving faced only one break point.
As the match lengthened it was Andy who began gradually to get his
serve-returns into play. The 6-6 Swede, now age 25, delivered some potent approach shots
off Andy's returns, but he was also erratic in his approach and net work.
Andy won the tiebreak games ending the first two sets comfortably. Then in the
third set Andy's improved success in getting back Joachim's thunder produced
the only service break of the match upon two bad errors in forecourt by Joachim.
At the end, the tally of aces favored Roddick 30-23. Roddick d. J. Johansson
76 76 63. U.S.A. 1, Sweden 0.
The Taraflex hard-court "carpet" was ideally suited for side-sliced serves,
where the ball skids on the surface and then bends to receiver's right as it
slows. In the second match, Thomas Johansson used sliced serves regularly,
especially to the James Blake forehand. His serving, along with some effective
attacks on James's second serve by compact counterpunches, plus Thomas's highly
reliable backhand two-hander and some fine approaches off a heavily overspun
forehand, enabled the lower-ranked Swede to keep ahead of his opponent.
Johansson broke serve to open the first set and held to that edge to set's end. He
broke again early in set two behind two winning serve-returns and some dismal
play by James and again held on.
Blake took the third set behind his finest play of the day. But he slipped
backwards in set four, losing serve from deuce in game four by contributing two
consecutive double-faults. His total of double-faults for the match to date
thus became eleven, compared to only one by Johansson. The double-faults
reflected the Swede's relentless pressure threatening James's second serve. One
final hope arose when James reached 15-40 on Thomas's serve in game seven. But
James then failed to get any of the next four serves back into play. T. Johansson
d. Blake 64 62 36 63. U.S.A. 1, Sweden 1.
The second-day doubles was played at extremely high level--not surprisingly
given the credentials of the participants. Facing the world #1 pair, the Bryans,
were Simon Aspelin, recent doubles champion at U.S. Open, and veteran Jonas
Bjorkman, nine-time Slam winner in men's doubles.
The first set was tight, all players adjusting to the problems of returning
serve on the fast Taraflex. Bob Bryan's lefty slices were especially tricky. In
the seventh game, Bjorkman served and first-volleyed poorly, but the Swedes
managed to survive five break points. In most other games, all servers held
serve quickly. The tension soared in the set-ending tiebreaker, where each side
obtained only one point on the opposition's serve until the point score reached
11-12. The set ended on the 24th point, when a fine return by Bob Bryan of an
Aspelin second serve produced the deciding error.
It was the brothers who thereafter gradually stepped up the consistency of
their serve-returning. Increasingly, points were decided in close-in exchanges,
many of them wonderfully exciting to watch. Teamwork in movement between the
partners came often into play, where the Swedish partners were good but were
less familiar with each other than were the Americans. Occasional errors or weak
returns could be traced at least partially to their less-instinctive play.
Moreover Aspelin was handicapped in returning serve from the right side--not his
usual station. The Americans never lost a serving game, though the Swedes
failed to obtain a deserved service break because of an incorrect line call early
in the second set. Bjorkman continued to make countless superb plays in
forecourt, but his serve was the least forcing of all four. The Swedes lost four
serving games in total, all when Jonas was serving. As the match lengthened, the
dominance of the brothers continued to grow. Bryans d. Aspelin-Bjorkman 76 62
63. U.S.A. 2, Sweden 1.
Thomas Johansson had played at his highest level on Friday. His chances
seemed about equal to defeat Roddick in their scheduled meeting on Sunday. But
sudden illness intervened.Thomas's replacement, Jonas Bjorkman, now 35, had once
been among the world's top players, having reaching world #5 a decade ago, and
had indeed scored some fine singles wins in 2007.
Now, against Andy, Bjorkman showed that he can still hit crisply to the
sides, can come forward and volley as well as anyone in today's game, and can
compete tenaciously without letup. But Roddick on this day from the outset used
well the right formula--one based upon Andy's strong serving and backed by
excellent court mobility plus firmness and consistency in ground stroking. Andy
tried few high-risk shots, content to apply steady, relentless pressure in his
stroking. Jonas played well, especially in his excursions to net, but Jonas
missed too many shots to take the lead. There was never doubt as to the final
outcome. Roddick d. Bjorkman 62 76 64. U.S.A. 3, Sweden 1.
U.S.A. will be the host nation for the final round against Russia. The two
nations played last year in a semi-final meeting on clay in Olympic Stadium,
Moscow. Safin and Youzhny won first-day singles matches over Roddick and Blake,
respectively. Tursunov completed the Russian victory, defeating Roddick on the
third day in a 17-15 fifth set. (Russia then completed its 2006 capture of the
Cup by defeating Argentina in the final round, score 32, on a hard court in
The final round will commence November 30 at a site to be chosen by the
Americans. A nonclay surface is certain, probably indoors, with perhaps a
sentimental choice in Fort Worth, where as a boy in 1992 Andy Roddick watched an
American team defeat Switzerland to win the Cup.
Participation by the superstars and near-superstars was good. The Swedes
lacked Robin Soderling, who had been out since midsummer except for a first-round
retirement in Canada. Injured Safin appeared on the third day in Moscow from a
trip to the Himalayas. In the promotion-relegation play, which took place the
same weekend at eight locations worldwide, Roger Federer led Switzerland in
its 3-2 loss to Czech Republic. Roger contributed two singles wins but lost his
doubles with partner Allegro after the pair won the first two sets against
Berdych-Stepanek. (The Swiss #2 singles player, Stan Wawrinka, who won three
matches at U.S. Open, was outmatched against the two higher-ranked Czech players
aforementioned.) Novak Djokovic led Serbia into next year's World Group by
defeating Australia with Hewitt. Andy Murray and brother Jamie joined Tim Henman
in the British victory over Croatia. The high level of superstar attendance
plainly contributes to the long-term health of the Cup competition and the
sport in general.
TENNIS NATIONS 07
Again this December, we will choose a pro-tennis Nation of the Year. Weighted
heavily in the selection will be results in the pro team competitions and in
the major tournaments. Here are the winners in the 2007 team events.
Davis Cup: Russia or U.S.A., to be determined
Fed Cup: Russia
World Team Cup (men's teams, held on clay in May in Germany): Argentina
Hopman Cup (mixed teams, held in January in Australia): Russia
Here are the leading nations at 2007 tournaments, measured by the number of
singles and doubles matches won by players of each tennis nationality:
Australian Open: U.S.A. (2nd, France)
Garros: Spain (2nd, France)
Wimbledon: France (2nd, U.S.A)
U.S. Open: U.S.A. (2nd, Spain)
Masters Series: Spain's males won the most matches in five of the seven
tournaments played to date.
Slams: Russia's females won the most matches in all four Slams (2nd in all
Tier Ones: Russia won the most matches in six of the eight Tier Ones played
Intangible aspects may also be considered in our selection, including success
by a nation out of proportion to its size or past place in tennis history.