At this juncutre in his career, Andy Roddick's game can be summarized quite succinctly: Andy inside the baseline, champion. Andy behind the baseline, a solid Top 10 player prone to upset by almost anybody in the Top 50, give or take.
His opening rubber against the pesky lefty Jurgen Melzer, ranked No. 57 in the world, could be seen as a microcosm of Andy's entire career to date. Roddick the champion, who won his first two titles on clay and who'd never dropped a set to Melzer in 6 meetings, recovered from a slow start to take the first set.
But the more the champion drifted behind the baseline on the sand the Austrians dumped on top of whatever they dumped it on top of, the easier Melzer was able to dictate play with net approaches and drop shots that flustered the American. So he lost the second set, won the third, and lost the fourth in a tiebreak, thanks to that sandy court that sent balls bouncing overhead and a few home-friendly net cords.
But Andy the champion changed his tactics in the final set, stepped inside the court on returns, approached the net, and hit his groundstrokes with more weight and depth. Even though he fell behind an early break, he reeled of four straight games to take a 4-1 lead, held his advantage and sealed the rubber 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 to put the USA on the board first.
History tells us that when Andy wins the first set of a tie, the USA has gone 5-0 since 2004. When he loses the first rubber, our record is 2-2.
James Blake apparently got that memo and defeated Stefan Koubek 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. Even after falling apart and dropping the last 4 games of the first set, he didn't away. Despite behind down a break with points to go down a double break in the second set, he took advantage of a lapse from Koubek and won seven straight games (he got some crucial net cords to go his way as well) to level the rubber and take a two-break lead in the third. Too good to be true, he dropped one of the breaks, but got it back to win the match comfortably in the end.
Overall, he played with patience and poise. Sure he overhit here and there, made a poor shot selection now and then, but he constructed points as though he knew the geometry of the entire sandbox. I'm sure many spectators were surprised but no one more than Koubek. The Austrian, despite support from his fans, simply had no answers for the questions James asked.
So, Blake wins his first five-set match at the US Open last summer, wins a crucial rubber in the Davis Cup final, comes back from two sets down for the first time in his career at the Australian Open where he made the quarterfinals for the first time and played Roger Federer almost as though he believed he could actually beat him, and won his first live rubber in Davis Cup on clay away from home.
And the last of these after battling flu-like symptoms at the beginning of the week.
Who does he think he is? If he's not careful, people are going to start mistaking him for a mentally tough warrior. If I'd been able to attend the tie, I'd have been cheering loudly with the NetHeads, too.
World Group Scoreboard
RUSSIA leads SERBIA 2-0
Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) d Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 26 63 62 64
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) d Viktor Troicki (SRB) 61 16 63 16 62
CZECH REPUBLIC leads BELGIUM 2-0
Tomas Berdych (CZE) d Kristof Vliegen (BEL) 63 61 64
Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Steve Darcis (BEL) 64 76(4) 76(5)
ARGENTINA leads GREAT BRITAIN 2-0
David Nalbandian (ARG) d Jamie Baker (GBR) 61 63 63
Agustin Calleri (ARG) d Alex Bogdanovic (GBR) 63 61 61
ISRAEL tied with SWEDEN 1-1
Dudi Sela (ISR) d Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) 76(8) 63 61
Thomas Johansson (SWE) d Harel Levy (ISR) 61 61 63
GERMANY tied with SOUTH KOREA 1-1
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d Jae-Sung An (KOR) 62 62 62
Hyung-Taik Lee (KOR) d Florian Mayer (GER) 75 63 16 76(7) 63
SPAIN 2 leads PERU 2-0
Nicolas Almagro (ESP) d Matias Silva (PER) 63 75 60
Tommy Robredo (ESP) d Ivan Miranda (PER) 62 63 63
FRANCE leads ROMANIA 2-0
Richard Gasquet (FRA) d Victor Hanescu (ROM) 76(5) 64 75
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d Andrei Pavel (ROM) 67(2) 64 64 64