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Blake Mounts Comeback, U.S. Takes Commanding 2-0 Lead

April 12, 2008 11:57 AM

By Jason Brown, USTA.com

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Down two match points, James Blake of the United States staged a miraculous comeback, stunning Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in five heart-stopping sets, 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

James Blake celebrated with his teammates after putting the U.S. up 2-0 over France. (Ron Angle)
A match that lasted 3 hours and 49 minutes, the American outlasted his opponent in the final set.Serving for the match at 5-4, Mathieu had a pair of match points on his strings, but was unable to connect when it mattered most.

Blake erased the first match point on a screaming return that flat-footed Mathieu, followed by an errant backhand that extended the match.

Consolidating the break with a love game to get to 6-5, Blake applied even more pressure on the Frenchman’s serve. Mathieu quickly fell behind 15-40, earning the American his first two match points.

An ace quelled the inevitable as Blake completed the comeback on a Mathieu error, racing to the sidelines to celebrate with his teammates.

“I have to give him some credit,” said Mathieu. “He made two incredible shots.”

In team history, the United States is a remarkable 21-1 when leading 2-0.

On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States, 14-1 in Davis Cup competition, will try to clinch the quarterfinal series (1:30 pm ET; Versus Network).

The Bryans have clinched the last two Davis Cup ties for their country – the 2008 First Round against Austria and the 2007 Final against Russia, both in straight sets.

One win away from becoming the most successful U.S. doubles team of all time, the Bryans are scheduled to face Arnaud Clement and Michalel Llodra of France.

Team captains may substitute the doubles team up to one hour before the match.

French captain Guy Forget has Richard Gasquet on the team bench as an alternate to play with either Clement or Llodra.

Andy Roddick defeated Michael Llodra in straight sets. (Ron Angle)
As far as championship rings go, the one on Andy Roddick’s right hand felt a little snug at first, but by the time he won the opening match of the Davis Cup Quarterfinal, it was a perfect fit.

Cracking 30 aces, Roddick staked the Davis Cup defending champions to the 1-0 lead, defeating Llodra in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(5), in the first rubber.

“If I’m being honest, I was trying to kind of almost blank out during it because I knew I had to play a match,” said Roddick about the difficulty of enjoying the ring ceremony while mentally preparing for his match.

“Seeing all those highlights, seeing the guys with the rings, I didn’t know if I wanted to get too emotional and too caught up. Lord knows, I don’t need to be more nervous before Davis Cup matches.”

Roddick didn’t face a break point against until 5-5 in the third set. He defended Llodra’s chances to get back in the match, including a pretty backhand winner down the line followed by an ace.

“He was pretty impressive with his serve,” said Llodra, who was only able to create three break point opportunities, none of which he was able to convert.

Designed to play like the court set for the 2007 final in Portland, Oregon, U.S. players commented that it might have been playing even quicker.

“The surface dictates what you’re able to do,” said Roddick.

Improving his Davis Cup singles record to 28-9, Roddick extended his winning streak to eight matches, including a perfect 2007 season. Roddick is now just two wins behind Andre Agassi (30) for second on the all-time list.

Before the first match of the best-of-five series began, the U.S. was honored in a special pre-match ceremony celebrating the 2007 Championship.

A highlight film recapped the memorable season, from the first round playing in hostile territory against the Czech Republic to championship point against Russia before a sold-out crowd in Portland.

Andy Roddick and Michael Llodra meet at the net after Roddick's victory. (Ron Angle)
USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jane Brown Grimes and USTA Chief Executive Officer, Professional Tennis Arlen Kantarian presented each team member with an individually-engraved ring.

Each gold ring contained five diamonds representing one for every member of the team, had the players’ last name on one side, and the results of the 2007 season on the other.

“I thought it was a great gesture by the USTA to give us that opportunity – to give us the rings, first of all – and to kind of publicly appreciate what we were able to do last year,” said Roddick. “I thought it was a classy move.”

Captain Patrick McEnroe received his first, followed by Bob and Mike Bryan, James Blake, and team leader Andy Roddick. The team posed together for photographs, showing off the shimmering bling of the rings that each will savor for a lifetime.

Following the ring presentation, the championship banner was raised to the rafters of the Joel Coliseum, flanked by the flags of the United States and France.

In the quarterfinal series that directly impacts the U.S.-France tie, a Tommy Haas-less Germany team dug themselves a deep hole on Day 1, dropping both singles matches to visiting Spain.

Rafael Nadal of Spain defeated Nicholas Kiefer of Germany in straight sets, 7-6, 6-0, 6-3.

Countryman David Ferrer applied more pressure, coming back from a set down to defeat Germany’s Phillipp Kohlscheiber, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

In other Davis Cup action, Argentina and Sweden are tied 1-1, and 2007 runner-up Russia is level with the Czech Republic behind a fine five-set comeback win from Marat Safin.




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