Roddick, Blake give US lead in Davis Cup

Andy Roddick and James Blake gave the United States a formidable 2-0 lead over defending champions Russia on Friday, putting the Americans one point away from their first Davis Cup crown in 12 years.

Roddick was untouchable on his serve in beating Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, while Blake turned in a gutsy performance to wrest a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/3) triumph from Mikhail Youzhny on the opening day of the best-of-five match World Group final.

Their victories set the stage for the top-ranked doubles duo of Bob and Mike Bryan to seal America’s first Davis Cup trophy since 1995, when they beat Russia in the final.

The Bryan brothers are slated to take on Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev.

Although Davydenko is ranked number four in the world in singles, he is a combined 0-11 against Roddick and Blake and Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev elected not to use him for singles.

Despite the outcome, Tarpischev said he didn’t regret the decision.

“I think that our best chances to beat Blake today [Friday] was with Youzhny out of all the players that he have today,” he said. “I don’t think that Davydenko would have beaten Blake today.

Blake had been seen as the potential weak link in the US team, with a 4-7 record in live singles rubbers.

He needed three-and-a-half hours to subdue Youzhny, saying his willingness to stick with a more risky aggressive style was the key to the victory.

After Blake converted the first break point of the fourth set to take a 5-4 lead, he was immediately broken as he served for the match.

Undaunted, he held on to force the tiebreaker, and said that when things got tight he drew on the memory of his four-set loss Thomas Johansson in the semifinals in Sweden.

“I think the matches this year prepared me to know that I’m just going to go out and be aggressive and play that style,” Blake said. “It was a style that cost me that game at 5-4, but it was a style that got me the win.

“If I would have gone out and played this match soft, playing not to lose, I would have been sitting here a loser, that’s for sure.”

“I thought it was one of his best performances ever,” said US captain Patrick McEnroe.
He’s had some great, big matches, but I thought this has got to be right up there.”

Blake agreed.

“This is the biggest win of my career,” he said. “Just to have that feeling ... to play one of my best matches in my first-ever Davis Cup final against a player like Youzhny ... at home with this many people—it’s definitely my best performance.”

After taking the opening set 6-3, Blake earned the first break of the second set in the third game.

But Youzhny broke back and they went on serve to the tiebreaker, Blake wasting five break points in the ninth game.

Youzhny gained the upper hand in the third set with a break in the fifth game, but Blake briefly put the brakes on the Russian’s comeback bid when he broke him to love as Youzhny served for the set.

Blake then won his third game in a row to make it 6-5, before Youzhny held to force the tiebreaker.

In contrast, Roddick never gave Tursunov a look-in, raining down 25 aces and saving the only break point he faced.

He had Tursunov on the run on the fast hard court at the 12 000-seat Memorial Coliseum, converting four of his 17 break opportunities.

“I don’t know if he had his best day, but I made him play a lot of shots,” Roddick said.

While Tursunov amply demonstrated his ability get out of a hole, he couldn’t get his nose in front.

“When I was a break down, I was playing fairly well,” he said. “But when the score was even, when there was no advantage, I wasn’t playing my game. I was playing way too passive. I was very cautious and playing like I was afraid to miss.”

Roddick avenged his loss to Tursunov in the Davis Cup semifinals last year, when the Russian edged him 17-15 in the fifth set of the decisive match.

About the only tension Tursunov was able to produce came when he made Roddick sweat through seven set points to close out the opening set.

But Roddick insisted he didn’t feel confident of victory until he earned the second break of the third set.

That left him free to enjoy the adulation of the crowd in the final game, when he delivered one last service winner on match point to end it.

“The crowd was amazing. That last game, when they just stood up, that was probably one of the coolest moments of my career so far,” said Roddick, who was 10 years old when the US last hosted a Davis Cup final—in 1992 when they beat Switzerland in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Russians, who defeated Argentina in last year’s final, knew they had left themselves a mountain to climb.

“Of course the American team has very good chances tomorrow [Saturday] of winning,” he added. “But as they say, the ball is round, so anything can happen.”—AFP

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