WASHINGTON, September 16, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The U.S. Davis Cup team can thank its lucky stars that 40-year-old Mike Bryan ended his Davis Cup retirement for this weekend’s World Group semifinal tie against Croatia in Zadar.
On Saturday, in a four hour and 43 minute epic played on outdoor red clay in front of an energetic and noisy, mostly-Croatian home crowd that filled the Sportski Centar Visnjik, Bryan and Ryan Harrison held off Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig, 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5). The win extended the U.S.-Croatia semifinal tie into Sunday, where it will be decided during the reverse singles rubbers, starting with Sam Querrey of the U.S. against Marin Cilic of Croatia. The Croatians lead the Americans 2-1, needing just one more win to advance to the 2018 Davis Cup final.
“I’ve never played a match like that,” said the World No. 1 Bryan during the team’s post-match press conference after fighting off elimination by winning the doubles point. “It was just a dog fight. Could have gone either way. Luckily, I had a great partner in Harry. He stepped up there at the end – and he played great.”
Asked if Saturday’s five-setter was the kind of match he came out of Davis Cup retirement for, Bryan said, “These are the matches that you look back on in your career and you really remember. Playing for your country, winning an away tie. This is really why you play the game. I think I missed that for a couple of years away from Davis Cup.
“When Jim (Courier) asked me to play, I was thrilled to rejoin the team, if I could help in any way. Now that’s there’s a five-man lineup, I thought I could be somewhat of an asset to the team. This is really why I came over here and got back in Davis Cup. I’m thrilled to give the U.S. one point. We did our job, and now we’re hoping to give the team some momentum.”
U.S. team captain Jim Courier said, “We’ve been lucky to have Mike back. He and Ryan really combined well today in a pretty tricky environment. They came in never playing together before, I think, right? That’s a pretty daunting task to take on when you’re 0-2 down on hostile turf.
“Both of them have played Davis Cup, obviously. Ryan’s won a couple of points for us this year in doubles, but it’s still tricky. I’m super-proud of those guys and thankful that they were able to combine and get us the win.”
Bryan said that he and Harrison had four days to get ready for the Croatia tie. “We discussed strategy – there’s so many intricacies that go into doubles – and the chemistry. It was just kind of a fast-track to Saturday’s match. I thought we jelled pretty well out there. Just a lot of communication in between points. A lot of signals. I thought it was just a great matchup.”
The 54th-ranked Harrison called playing – and winning – with Bryan one of the “most memorable moments” for him. “I’m really grateful I had the opportunity. Mike’s been really great all week about helping me out with just so many years of great doubles experience, helping me on where to be and what to do. Made my job easy; I was just trying to fight for every point.”
Dodig, ranked 24th, expressed the perspective from Croatia’s side of the net. He said, “I think (Mike) played a great, great match today. It’s amazing the level he’s keeping at his age. Obviously, he has also had a great season. We knew he’s coming here with a lot of confidence, and he showed that he’s still one of the best players in the world.”
U.S.-Croatia tie notes
• The U.S. has only come back from down an 0-2 deficit once in 41 Davis Cup ties, but their odds of coming back from 1-2 are slightly improved. The Americans have rebounded five times, mostly recently twice in 2000.
• The winner of the U.S.-Croatia tie will oppose France on November 23-25 in the Davis Cup final. On Saturday, France clinched its semifinal tie over Spain, 3-0, at Lille, France, to advance to the 2018 final. If the U.S. advances over Croatia, it would host France. If Croatia beats the U.S., France would host the final.
• Today’s fourth rubber between Sam Querrey of the U.S. and Marin Cilic of Croatia begins at 11 a.m. local time, followed by Frances Tiafoe of the U.S. against Borna Coric of Croatia.