By Herman R Gibbs, special to USTA.com
U.S. Men's World Group II campaigners Jon Rydberg and Steve Welch overwhelmed Chile with a dashing display for a 3-0 rubber margin at the 27th ITF World Team Cup in Pretoria, South Africa, on Thursday.
The only hiccup along the way was that the all-conquering side dropped a set for the first time on their South African safari, but the setback only seemed to fire Welch into all-out action.
In a quick-fire contest lasting 48 minutes Rydberg blew Cristian Aranda away with a 6-0, 6-1 margin. Rydberg was into his stride at the outset and posted a steady stream of winners to either side of the court in a show of power tennis.
Welch was up next against Robinsón Méndez and he needed more time to see this Chilean off after he lost the first set, mainly as a result of a spate of unforced errors. But he bounced back in championship fashion to claim the next two sets with a fine display of all-court skills for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win. Welch found his range midway through the second on the back of some big serves and once he reduced the stalemate he mixed up his game to keep his nose ahead in the deciding third set. At the end he set up match point with a perfectly-placed lob which must have gutted Méndez just moments ahead of his demise. And that touch of Welch wizardry reduced Méndez to tears after the customary end-of-match handshake.
"I didn't know too much about Méndez but the plan was to attack the ball early," said Welch. "After I lost the first set I decided to go for it a little more to raise my levels (of play).
"It was just a matter of managing my errors from that point onwards and he made it easier for me towards the end he made far more errors."
The U.S. conceded the doubles clash, which gave the second-seeded U.S. men more time to ponder their game plan ahead of Saturday's final against second seeds Japan.
On the adjacent courts, the U.S. powerhouse quad twin spearhead of Nick Taylor and David Wagner secured North American bragging rights by taking Canada's best to the cleaners for a 3-0 whitewash.
Taylor disposed of Adrian Dieleman 6-1, 6-0 and Wagner rolled over Hunter with a 6-1, 6-2 scoreline.
There was misery in store for the Canadians in the doubles as the Taylor/Wagner duo finally sent them packing 6-0, 6-1 in under an hour.
With this win the top-seeded U.S. secured a final berth against perennial rival, Israel on Saturday.
There was great jubilation in the U.S. camp after Ryan Nelson recorded his first singles WTC victory in his 6-1, 6-1 win over Argentina's Gonzalo Pascual. This personal Nelson milestone paved the way for a 2-1 rubber win over the never-say-die South Americans.
Shelby Baron never came into her own against 6-1, 6-1 winner Ezequiel Casco, but it was another chance for the green horn to cut her teeth on the WTC stage.
Baron, however, joined Nelson in the doubles contest and did their country proud as they scrambled a 6-7(1), 6-1, 6-0 win over the Pascual/Casco pairing.
The two U.S. rookies showed great composure when the pressure intensified later in the match. It also showed a great deal that they retained their focus and fed off each other's inspiration as they staged a gallant, yet patient match winning comeback.