U.S. Davis Cup team needs better No. 2 player
Andy Roddick thrilled his nation with his near upset of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, but his subsequent pullout from the U.S. Davis Cup team's quarterfinal tie against Croatia due to emotional exhaustion and a minor injury proved costly.
Instead of having his dependable and fiery No. 1 to go up against the talented Marin Cilic and the service-bombing Ivo Karlovic, U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe was forced to name the underachieving James Blake as his leader and call upon Mardy Fish, no clay court demon, as his No. 2 player.
Both men played their hearts out on the opening day but didn't have the skill set or the inner belief to pull off victories on foreign soil, as Karlovic (who was 0-11 in five set matches entering the day) came from two sets down to overcome Blake 6-7 (5), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-5, and then Marin Cilic fried Fish 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 8-6 in four hours and 23 minutes.
The nearly unbeatable duo of Bob and Mike Bryan gave the U.S. a glimmer of hope when they took a simple 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win over inexperienced Croatian pair of Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko on Saturday. But on Sunday, America didn't come close to pulling off what it hasn't done since 1934, coming back from an 0-2 deficit when the enthusiastic and lethal 20-year-old Cilic wiped the clay with Blake in a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
On Friday against Karlovic, Blake showed tremendous heart, but against Cilic, he played a sloppy and confusing contest, rarely taking the time to set up points and show off his athleticism. Clearly, Blake has never been comfortable in dirt, but it wasn't as if he was facing four-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the seaside resort of Porec. Rather, he's a young and sometimes erratic player who was being asked to lift his nation on his thin shoulders over the most successful Davis Cup county in history.
Had Blake been able to get on top of Cilic early, extend the points and make the Croat feel the heat on his service games, he might have been able to make Cilic's hands shake when trying to close the match out. But Blake largely went away in the fifth set, serving miserably, returning without direction and wildly slapping his forehand about the court.