Roddick and Blake Drive the U.S. to a 2-0 Lead in Davis Cup

Andy Roddick and Dmitry Tursunov played cat and mouse while James Blake played drama queen as the U.S. won both matches on the first day of the Davis Cup final.

Whenever you see footage of the 1995 Davis Cup final. you always see Pete Sampras crumple to the court immediately after winning a five set marathon over Russian Andrei Chesnikov.

Sampras was the ultimate winner. His mind was able to hold off his body and its meddlesome cramps until the very last second. When that second came, two trainers had to carry Sampras off the court, his legs dragging along behind him.

That may not be necessary this year. Sampras’ match was on clay. We’re on an indoor hard court this weekend in Portland, Oregon, and who wants to be dragged along a hard court and risk scraping the skin off your body? Besides, Andy Roddick and Dmitry Tursunov play the first match so don’t expect too many long points.

There were more long points than expected because Roddick and Tursunov were playing cat and mouse. Roddick was keeping the ball in the court and waiting for Tursunov to hit an error. Tursunov was drawing Roddick into rallies and waiting for him to hit an error.

This was a classic no win situation. Roddick was counting on Tursunov to play his usual thoughtless game and hit everything as hard as possible thereby racking up bunches of errors, whereas Tursunov was expecting Roddick’s ground strokes to fail in long rallies.

It was a contest to see which of these two players had the worst baseline game. The answer is Tursunov and it only took five games for him to hit enough errors to lose his serve and go down 2-3 in the first set. Even Roddick has trouble hitting errors when he’s just trying to keep the ball in the court.

Tursunov gave up his strategy as soon as he went down a break, as he did in every set, and that’s when he played his best. He had his chances because Roddick was not returning serve well. At one point Roddick had converted only 1 out of 14 break points and he hit an unusually high number of squash shot returns – otherwise known as desperate forehand slices.

But this is a fast indoor hard court and Roddick is the biggest server of all. He hit 25 aces and a selection of serves over 140 mph (225 kmh) and the result was a relatively easy 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win.

At the end of his match, Roddick told the crowd: “Now we gotta get Jimmy Blake through his next match.” Roddick was not being helpful, he was being honest. The crowd and the team really would have to get “Jimmy” through his match with Mikhail Youzhny because he could not be counted on to do it himself.

Any best of five set match is an adventure if you’re counting on Blake. He’s currently 1-10 in five set matches and there are two reasons for that.

He has one style and one style only: go for broke. That works fine until the shots stop falling and his first serve breaks down and that’s when he gets into fourth and fifth sets and the fun begins.

Blake doesn’t deal well with pressure. He went up 4-1 in the first set and was cruising until he served for the set and hit a double fault to give Youzhny a break point. He recovered to win the game and the first set and he won the second set tiebreaker.

When it came to closing out the match in the third set tiebreaker, however, he lost five of the last six points. The pressure had risen and the drama had begun.

Blake broke Youzhny to go up 4-5 in the fourth set and all he had to do was hold serve to win the match. Where’s the drama in that I ask you? Nah, he’d rather hit three straight errors, essentially giving the game away, and ratchet the pressure up just a tad more.

Blake got behind in the fourth set tiebreaker before he finally decided he’d had enough drama for one day. He won six of the last seven points to win the match, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-7(3), 7-6(3).

The media gets in trouble because we’re always questioning players’ mental toughness but I like to think we play our part in developing players by pushing them to excellence. After the match Blake said he was tired of having his mental toughness questioned:

I don’t think anyone can be in the top ten …without being mentally tough and I wanted to prove it today.

That 1995 Davis Cup final was the last U.S. Davis Cup title and it was won entirely on Sampras’ shoulders. He won both his singles matches and teamed with Todd Martin to win the doubles.

It doesn’t look like any such heroics will be necessary this time. The U.S. needs one more win and the Bryan brothers should be able to take care of business in doubles. Instead of watching two meaningless matches on Sunday, I’d rather go out and play some tennis myself.