WASHINGTON, February 4, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
With the pressure off the United States Davis Cup team, thanks to an insurmountable 3-0 lead against Serbia built over the first two days, captain Jim Courier inserted Steve Johnson into the U.S. lineup for Sunday’s dead rubber singles against the Serbians at Nis. The 50th-ranked Johnson, who paired with Ryan Harrison to clinch the first-round tie for the Americans with a four-set doubles victory, faced 23-year-old Serbian Pedja Krstin, ranked 230th.
Krstin made quick work of his Davis Cup debut by taking the first set in just 18 minutes, determined to give the fans inside Sportski Centar Cair something to cheer about. While it was arguably Krstin’s biggest match of his life, Johnson showed little energy or enthusiasm – perhaps, he lost a coin toss with Harrison to see who would play in the dead rubber? – and lost 6-1, 7-5. The match lasted just 57 minutes. The Serbian won 34 of 42 (81%) of his first-serve points, hit 17 winners, and converted four of seven break-point opportunities. Krstin outpointed the American 64-42.
While the official, final score of the U.S.-Serbia tie will be listed in the Davis Cup record books as 3-1 in favor of the Americans, there was little interest in the meaningless U.S.-Serbia rubber. Even U.S. broadcaster Tennis Channel focused much of its attention in showing coverage of the Spain-Great Britain and Canada-Croatia ties, going where the action was to provide exciting live look-ins, while keeping cursory tabs on what was happening in the Johnson-Krstin rubber. Finally, after Spain clinched its tie over Great Britain, Tennis Channel switched back to Nis and showed the closing moments of Krstin’s win against Johnson. Then, it was back to the decisive tie-clinching set between Borna Coric and Denis Shapovalov, won by Croatia.
Looking back on the U.S. team’s first-round success, Courier said after Saturday’s tie-clinching doubles victory: “We’re thrilled to be into the quarterfinals.” It marks the third consecutive year that the U.S. has reached the quarterfinal round in World Group play.
“These were three very difficult, close matches You can’t get any closer than 7-6 in the fifth,” said Courier, describing John Isner’s five-set thriller that lifted the U.S. to a 2-0 lead after the first day. “All of the matches had pivotal moments, and we could be easily sitting here talking about how we lost 3-0, too. So, they put up a heck of a fight, and our team did the same and came up with some clutch wins when we needed them.”
Next Up: Belgium At Home
Looking ahead to April’s quarterfinal-round tie against Belgium, which the U.S. will host, it remains to be seen if top American Jack Sock, currently ranked No. 8, will be selected by Courier. And, if he is, does Sock supplant No 12 Sam Querrey or No. 18 John Isner in the singles lineup or, perhaps, be inserted to play doubles? When Sock was left off the U.S. roster for the Serbia tie, it raised more than a few eyebrows among the U.S. tennis community. However, Courier defended his decision – and, of course, everything turned out well for the Americans.
“Jack found himself in the position where he didn’t get the offseason that he needed and he needed time to train,” said Courier. “He made a decision not to travel with the team, that he wasn’t prepared enough to be ready to do what we needed him to do here.
“Thankfully, we have so many options, and obviously we got what we needed from this great collection of players. Jack is at home and he’s working hard and diligently to get himself ready to play at the level he played at the end of last year. So, we hope that he’ll become a part of what we’re doing here as we move forward into the next round.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.