WASHINGTON, February 3, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The United States Davis Cup team approached its first-round World Group tie at Nis, Serbia, this weekend as a work trip. If their 3-0 victory over the Serbians, in which the U.S. clinched the tie by winning the pivotal doubles rubber on Saturday afternoon, was any indication, the Americans took care of business. Now, they can unwind and enjoy Super Bowl Sunday.
Americans Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson overcame a spirited Serbian duo of Nikola Milojevic and Miljan Zekic, and finished with an emphatic 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 win on the indoor red clay at Sportski Centar Cair. The match lasted 3 hours and 3 minutes.
The U.S. pair – Harrison is the reigning French open doubles champion and Johnson won an Olympic doubles bronze medal at Rio in 2016 – outpointed their outmatched opponents 144-127. They won 64 of 82 (78%) of their first-serve points and finished with 33 winners. The Americans forced the Serbians into committing 75 errors and broke their opponents five times in 15 opportunities.
“It’s no surprise that they came out and played great on their home court,” Johnson said during a post-match interview in describing Serbia’s Davis Cup team, which played without three of its country’s biggest stars, Novak Djokovic, Filip Krajinovic and Viktor Troicki. “We just had to weather the storm a little bit, but once we got rolling, I felt pretty confident in our abilities to get the job done.” Harrison added: “We feel good about our team and our depth. We’re excited.”
With a meaningless best-of-3 set dead rubber to play on Sunday, the pressure is off the Americans and they can look ahead. With its victory over Serbia, the U.S. advanced to the quarterfinal round, April 6-8, and will host either Belgium or Hungary.
Serbia entered Saturday’s doubles rubber needing to win to keep its tie against the U.S. alive after the Americans jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Sam Querrey and John Isner winning both singles rubbers on Friday.
Milojevic and Zekic gave Serbia a dash of hope by winning a first set tie-break 7-3. However, Harrison and Johnson rebounded nicely in the second set 6-2, winning all of their second set services games at love and breaking Zekic’s serve twice.
Then, on serve at 5-all in the third set, but facing a break point at 15-40, Zekic netted a backhand volley that gave Harrison and Johnson the advantage they had been in search of all set. Ahead 6-5 on Harrison’s serve, Johnson hit a solid forehand winner at the net to put away the third set 7-5.
With the momentum shifting toward the Americans, Serbia needed a miracle to get the upper hand and force a decisive fifth set. However, Harrison and Johnson had other things on their minds – like winning it in four. At 1-all, the Americans got a valuable break to go up 2-1. Then, the Serbians needed a medical time out as Zekic required attention for his ailing back. After play resumed, Harrison held his serve for a 3-1 lead and from there the Americans served out the match.
“Early on, we were a little bit nervous,” Harrison said. “It’s a different environment, playing in a team atmosphere and representing your country. I personally was really happy that my captain and my partner were there to help settle me down after a rough start.”
U.S. captain Jim Courier complimented Harrison and Johnson after their tie-clinching win. “These guys did a terrific job of staying focused and making some changes, and trusting each other and getting to the finish line,” he said. “We have great depth – great options to play singles and doubles – so, I’m pretty blessed as a captain to have a team like this.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.