The first round of the 2012 Davis Cup got underway on Friday and the first two singles matches in each tie were played. In what was the biggest surprise of the day, Team USA took a stunning 2-0 lead over favoured Switzerland as Mardy Fish defeated Stan Wawrinka 9-7 in the 5th set and John Isner upset Roger Federer in 4 sets. The loss for Federer was his first singles defeat in Davis Cup action since the infamous 5-set loss to Lleyton Hewitt in Australia in 2003 in which he was ahead two sets to none.
Before I recap all the day's action, I'll talk about Fed's match. It was a tight-serving match throughout, with many short points and big serves as is the case with many Isner matches. Roger won the first set 6-4, a set in which his serve was untouchable and he only needed the one break to pull it out. The second set was much of the same, only Isner got a crucial break in the middle of the set after Federer saved 6 break points before finally giving up the break. The big serving American went onto win the second set 6-4. The third set was as dead even as it could possibly be, which resulted in a tiebreak. Isner, being the tiebreak juggernaut that he is, went on to win it 7 points to 4 to take the all-important two sets to one lead. In the fourth set, the big lanky monster server raised his game even further, and stormed his way to a 6-2 4th set and a remarkable victory over Federer.
Unlike Federer's loss at the Australian Open to Nadal just a couple of weeks ago, I think this was a much better loss for Roger. He did not give the match away to his opponent, his opponent won it with fantastic play and unbreakable serving. Isner, from the second set onwards, played as well as he could have, and Roger did not have any answers for the big, high-kicking serve of the American. Now, am I saying that Roger played great? No. But he played well enough, but could not find any rhythm on the return and was never really afforded any opportunity after the first set - and if he did have chances, they were wiped aside by Isner's lethal 1-2 punch.
I must give the big American full credit - he played superbly and deserved to win the match. After watching the match, I can completely understand why he was able to come so close to beating Rafael Nadal in the 1st round of the French Open last year. His serves (both first and second) kick up incredibly high on both return wings and that makes it nearly impossible to ever get a decent position on the return. I know Roger certainly struggled with the effectiveness of the serve, and it only seemed to get better as the match wore on, as John gained more and more confidence. And no, this was not just a case of Isner exploiting Fed on the backhand return up high. He was kicking serves up to the forehand and Roger practically had to hit his forehand returns vertical, they were getting up so high over his head. When John Isner serves like he did in that match, he is nearly unbreakable.
As for Federer's performance, he was rusty, but I didn't think he played a bad match. His serve was very good and his forehand produced at a fairly high rate. I felt that he didn't hit as many backhands as he would have liked, but perhaps that was a tactical decision. He was slicing the ball in many of the rallies, which is always a good play against a tall player like Isner. The problem is, Roger didn't get to enough rallies to capitalize on his superior ground game. Having said all this, the great Swiss was definitely uncomfortable returning, which ended up hurting him in the end. The fact that Roger hadn't played a clay court match since the French Open final last June did not help either. No matter how much you practice, it's still not the same thing as actually playing a match, and I could see early on that he was rusty. Playing such a lethal server like Isner did not give him any leeway either to get comfortable moving around the clay court and adjusting to the bounce, since there were few mid-to-long length rallies in which Roger could find his rhythm. Overall, I am disappointed that Roger lost, but I do understand that he was beaten by the better man on the day. I have never seen Isner look so poised and confident out there on court, especially with his groundstrokes and return of serve.
So now that the Swiss are down 2-0, they will need to win out if they want to advance. On Day 2, the team of Federer and Wawrinka takes on the team of Mike Bryan and young up-and-comer Ryan Harrison. Should they win that, Roger takes on Mardy Fish (a much better matchup for Roger on clay in my opinion), and then it would all come down to Wawrinka vs Isner. If the Swiss can get back to force a 5th and final match, I would be very pleased.
To recap the other day's action:
- Canada and France split their first two matches. Jo-Willy Tsonga defeated Canadian #2 Vasek Pospisil in straight sets while Milos Raonic did the same to Julien Benneteau. Raonic would have played Gael Monfils, but the charismatic Frenchman was forced out due to a knee injury. The 1-1 tie heading into the second day of action makes the doubles match all important, which features Pospisil and doubles superstar Daniel Nestor taking on Michael Llodra and Benneteau. Whichever way that match goes, the following singles matches, Raonic vs Tsonga and if necessary, Pospisil vs Benneteau, should be very exciting.
- Spain (vs Kazakhstan), Serbia (vs Sweden), Argentina (vs Germany), Austria (vs Russia), and the Czech Republic (vs Italy) have 2-0 leads and look to close out their ties on Saturday in their doubles matches.
As a Canadian, I will be pulling for Canada the rest of the way through. I think they have a great chance to pull out this tie, especially if they can win the doubles. Raonic is fully capable of beating Tsonga and he is one guy that can match Jo power for power. Likewise, as a Federer fan, and a supporter of Wawrinka, I hope they can make their tie competitive so we can see some good singles play on Sunday (to see Fed play another singles match, being the greedy person I am).
Be back later,