By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
AUSTIN, Texas - The Spanish Davis Cup Team came to Austin as the slight underdog, playing an away tie on a fast, indoor hardcourt in U.S. Davis Cup star Andy Roddick’s hometown.
But in an unexpected turn of events, behind singles victories from Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer over Mardy Fish and Roddick, respectively, Spain leads the U.S. 2-0 after the first day of play in the Davis Cup Quarterfinals in front of a raucous, sellout crowd at the Frank Erwin Center.
Lopez first fought past Mardy Fish 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 8-6 in just under four hours to give Spain the early lead in a match that featured dominate serving from both players, who combined to hit 64 aces.
Roddick then took the court against Ferrer, the world No. 6, and uncharacteristically squandered leads in both the first and second sets, including seven set points in the first, as Ferrer used his fantastic speed to play great defense and his solid return game to win 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-3.
This is the first time the U.S. has been down 0-2 at home since the 1999 quarterfinals against Australia, which was also U.S. Davis Cup Captain’s Jim Courier’s last tie as a player and the only time the U.S. lost when he played a match. The U.S. has not lost a tie at home since a 2005 first round loss to Croatia.
"Obviously credit should go to the Spanish team," Courier said. "Those guys played two great matches. Mardy and Andy laid it out there as much as they could today and those guys just had the answers. Felt like we had some good looks and didn’t quite close when we needed to."
With his team down, Roddick was up a break early against Ferrer and served for the set with a 5-4, 40-0 lead. But Ferrer fought back and eventually earned the break to bring the set to 5-all when Roddick double faulted, letting five set point opportunities pass by.
The set then moved to a tiebreak where Roddick had his sixth set point at 6-5. Ferrer hit a shot that was called long and the players starting walking off the court, when Spanish Davis Cup Captain Albert Costa noticed Ferrer was not going to challenge the close point and yelled to him to do so.
Ferrer requested the challenge and replay showed the ball actually landed inside the baseline so instead of a first set win for Roddick, the point was replayed, which turned into a point for Ferrer for 6-all. Ferrer had a set point chance at 7-6 but hit a forehand long for 7-7 and then Roddick smacked one of his 16 aces for 8-7, setting up his seventh set point chance.
But Ferrer responded, hitting a volley winner to even it up again and after one more tie at 9-9, Ferrer went up when Roddick hit a backhand into the net and the Spaniard closed out the set when Roddick hit a return long.
"He played well. I thought I played pretty well for the first two sets," Roddick said. "The third set got away from me a little bit. I feel like I left one out there in the first set. "
Roddick, second all-time in U.S. Davis Cup Team history with 33 singles wins, did come out strong in the second, going up an early break at 2-0. But Ferrer broke back a few games later to bring the set back to serve and then took the lead with a break at 6-5 when Roddick missed a shot wide left before serving it out for a commanding two sets lead.
In the third, Ferrer struck first for the lead, breaking with when Roddick hit a crosscourt shot wide for a 4-3 lead and after holding, broke again in the final game on his first match point opportunity when Roddick double faulted.
"I tried to put it behind me," Roddick said of the challenge that overturned his set-winning point. "I felt like I hit the ball pretty well. I just got to play better on those big points. He played them better than I did tonight."
Ferrer knew he played the game he needed to against the power-serving Roddick, getting in as many returns as possible to keep on the pressure, and was pleased with the way he did it.
"Andy, he served really, really good," Ferrer said. "I played all the match with my return. I return unbelievable in this match. It was the key."
In the first match, despite the crowd solidly behind Fish throughout, it was Lopez who scored the pivotal break in the fifth set after a solid all-around match from both players, whose games thrived on the fast, indoor hardcourt.
"He's the kind of guy that he puts a lot of pressure on your serve games. I played a couple, two or three, bad serve games the entire match. Played a lot of good games, but those two or three are the difference against someone like him," Fish said.
It was Fish, the world No. 8, who entered the fifth set with all the momentum after taking control of the fourth-set tiebreak. Fish was able to break Lopez, the world No. 31, in the opening game in the fifth with a sensational lob to take the early lead after neither player even faced a break point in the fourth.
However, the American’s lead was short-lived. Fish took a 40-15 lead in the next game and seemed to be on his way to a 2-0 advantage, but after missing a forehand long and then double faulting, the game moved to deuce. After hitting a shot long, Fish gave Lopez the advantage and the Spaniard converted the break point when Fish hit a forehand into the net to bring the fifth set back on serve.
"I was charged up after the fourth, got a quick break there," Fish said. Against a guy like him, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. I just can't lose serve. It's just as simple as that. I can't give the game away. It's so hard to break the guy.
"Then playing from ahead, with the crowd, that was the goal. It was a huge game, that 1-0 game, just to get my feet in front and feel like I was in front. I was up 40-15 in the game. That was the biggest game of the match, for sure," he added.
As the fifth progressed, Lopez had his first match points in the tenth game but Fish was able to hang in when Lopez missed a shot wide down the line on the first match point and then by hitting a forehand winner moving in to bring the game back to deuce. He held on in the game with a volley winner to go to 5-all.
Serving at 6-all, Lopez gave Fish a chance to break for the lead when he double faulted for 30-40 but was able to save it with another strong serve that Fish hit into the net to go back to deuce.
Fish had another chance a few points later when Lopez hit a crosscourt shot wide to give the American the advantage but again came up with a big serve that Fish returned just shy of the baseline. Lopez then held on for the 7-6 lead.
In the next game, Fish took a 30-15 lead when Lopez hit a shot into the net but then double faulted to go to 30-all and after a fantastic rally, missed a shot just wide down the left line to give Lopez his third match point opportunity.
And this time Lopez was able to convert as he hit a crosscourt backhand winner for the 8-6 win in the fifth and give Spain the lead.
"When you are 6-all in the fifth set, anything can happen and anyone can win," Lopez said. "I knew it would be a close match and that anyone can win."
After losing the first set, in which Lopez never faced a break point, Fish dominated the second as he held at love in all but one of his service games. But Lopez’s returns picked back up in the third and he broke Fish to go up 3-1 and did not relinquish the lead as the match moved to the fourth.
As the fourth moved to the tiebreak, Lopez made a couple errors that cost him a chance to close out the match, missing two straight forehands wide to give Fish a comfortable 5-2 lead. Then with a volley winner and a 136 mph ace, he won the tiebreak to force the fifth.
The U.S. now has the world No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan going Saturday against Lopez and Verdasco and there is no one else the U.S. team would want with their 18-2 Davis Cup records and 11 Grand Slam titles.
On Sunday, Fish is scheduled to face Ferrer in the fourth singles match and then Roddick plays Lopez in the last match. The Americans know they have an tough battle, needing to sweep the last three matches, but it is certainly within their capabilities.
"Obviously it is an uphill battle. We’re not going to be the favorites down 0-2. We’re not out of this," Roddick said. "I don’t think Bob and Mike have lost to Verdasco and Lopez. We can still do this."