If the U.S. beats Sweden and Russia beats Germany, I get a trip home. So far, the odds look about 50/50.
Here’s the plan: the U.S. wins its Davis Cup semifinal over Sweden and Russia wins its Davis Cup semifinal over Germany. The Davis Cup final will then take place in the U.S., probably in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and I’ll have an excuse to fly to the east coast and visit my sister in North Carolina.
Problem is, Russia is not cooperating and neither is U.S. player James Blake. Russia is down 2-1 to Germany after the doubles and Blake looked awful in his four set loss to Sweden’s Thomas Johansson. Luckily, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers are coming through for me.
Roddick dusted off Joachim “PimPim” Johansson in Gothenburg, Sweden, to win the first rubber and the Bryan Brothers played what they called “our best Davis Cup match by far” to beat doubles specialists Jonas Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin easily after struggling through a 24 point first set tiebreaker.
Was Blake awful or was Thomas Johansson just too good? Let’s look at the first set. Blake had a double fault on his second serve of the match and five double faults in his first five service games. If Blake was serving badly then we can say that he played poorly. But Johansson was also punishing Blake’s second serve.
When someone is punishing your second serve you try one of two things: hit a safe first serve or go for more on your second serve. Judging by Blake’s first serve percentage he didn’t try the first option and the second option probably led to all of those double faults.
Return of serve is one of Blake’s strengths too but he wasn’t doing well with that either. He had four winners off service return for the entire match, not nearly enough when your opponent is getting 70% of his first serves in.
Blake had a great summer hard court season because he played aggressively. I’ve never seen him go to the net as much as he did at the U.S. Open where he reached the quarterfinals. In this match, though, he had exactly zero winners at the net.
After going up two sets to none, Johansson faltered a bit in the third set, and, ever the aggressor, took a huge swing at a volley and dumped it into the net to lose his serve and the set. It’s not like Blake had the momentum, though. He hit two double faults before he finally managed to serve out the third set and then hit two more double faults to lose his serve in the fourth set.
Johansson won the match, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Johansson may not have been too good but he was definitely much better. Roddick will play Johansson on Sunday. If Roddick wins it, the U.S. will be in the final and Blake’s next rubber will be meaningless.
Joachim “PimPim” Johansson was a surprise guest at this party. He hasn’t played a match in eight months due to a second surgery on his right shoulder. But he shares the record for the most aces in one match – 51 – and he had a chance against Roddick because the surface here in Gothenburg is Taraflex, a very fast indoor carpet.
At the risk of being impolite, I’m going to call Joachim Johansson “PimPim” to distinguish him from Thomas Johansson.
PimPim played exceptionally well considering the layoff. He faced three break points serving at 2-3 in the first set then reeled off four aces and a service winner to win the game. Wow. If this guy could stay healthy, he’d be scary.
When you have a long layoff, you lose two things: conditioning and focus. When you lose focus, you play the big points poorly and that’s why PimPim lost the first two sets.
In the first and second set tiebreakers it was Roddick who raised his game. As Roddick put it after the match, “…the most important stat was I didn’t lose a point on serve in either one of the breakers which is not easy to do. If you do that you’re not going to lose the tiebreakers.”
By the third set, conditioning joined focus as a problem. Serving at 3-4, PimPim got a ball at the net that was too high to volley and too low for an overhead. He put it into the net and gave Roddick three break points. On the next point, Roddick hit a short return and instead of putting it away, PimPim put it into the net. All Roddick had to do was serve out the set to win the rubber. Not a difficult task on this surface. Roddick won the match, 7-6(4), 7-6(3), 6-3.
If the U.S. does win and Germany ends up beating Russia, the final will be in Germany. I love Davis Cup but not enough to fly to Germany.
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