Without the veteran presences of Andy Roddick and James Blake, the American Davis Cup team has transitioned into a new era under captain Jim Courier. Critical to that new era are giant servers John Isner and Sam Querrey, the latter of whom propelled Team USA through the first round of this year’s World Group draw against Brazil. Querrey started and ended the tie with victories in singles rubbers, the first over Thomaz Bellucci in straight sets and the second in a suspenseful four-setter against an inspired underdog, Thiago Alves. Weathering his nerves near the end, he sealed Team USA’s survival in the World Group by dictating the tempo of rallies while toeing the line between aggression and patience as the match threatened to tip against him.
While the weekend ended in triumph, the Americans still revealed traces of vulnerability in allowing an overmatched opponent to erase a normally insurmountable 2-0 lead. They entered every match as the favorites and yet came within a tiebreak of letting the weekend hinge upon the fifth set of a live fifth rubber despite their home-court advantage. The Bryan brothers, such a stronghold of Team USA’s success, lost their doubles rubber for just the third time as they showed signs of age. Moreover, Isner extended his recent poor record in final sets in spraying far too many routine errors on Sunday, which a talented opponent will punish.
In the Davis Cup quarterfinals, held from April 5-7, the Americans will face a much sterner test. Fortunately for them, they retain home-court advantage and will host the tie in Boise, Idaho. A city far from any professional tennis tournament, Boise hopefully will produce a fuller audience than the sparse crowds who trickled into Jacksonville over Super Bowl weekend. Fans will have more reason to attend this time, for world #1 Novak Djokovic leads a balanced Serbian team into Boise, where the home hopes will find themselves no longer favorites but underdogs. Davis Cup champions in 2010, Serbia supplements Djokovic with top-10 threat Janko Tipsarevic, likely to rejoin the competition after missing this weekend’s tie with injury. The Bryans face a formidable task as well in fellow former doubles #1 Nenad Zimonjic, although his results have dwindled over the past few years.
Having lost a marquee tie at home against Spain in 2011, Team USA will hope to prove itself more than the sum of its parts when it battles Serbia in Boise. Both Isner and Querrey defeated Djokovic on hard courts last year, so their mission is not impossible. While the USTA will charge fees in the triple digits for a weekend pass, passionate tennis fans will consider their money well spent on the spectacle that awaits in April.