It is a steep clay pit holding 6000 devotees, and almost full Friday afternoon for a spectacle that no one could have suspected. Practically all of them were throatily behind the home team – Chile – but love of the homeland’s guys gave no indication that an all-time upheaval of the mighty United States could be in the making.
This bowl is a place where a stranger can get into trouble trying to do some good for his country in a Davis Cup clash. You walk in as Andy Roddick of the USA did to launch a best-of-5 match weekend series, and you know you’re in the enemy camp.
“It was that great Davis Cup feeling all over again,” says Roddick, No. 8 on the planet, who was the leading force as the Norteamericanos won the magnificent Cup itself in 2007 after years of trying. He decided to leave the quest to others in 2010, but was back again to the relief of newly-annointed U.S. Capt. Jim Courier for the leadoff point, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in three crackling, gripping hours.
Asked what thoughts he had on the new captain, Roddick quipped: “He had the good slacks going. He portrayed a sense of elegance early on which I thought set the tone.”
Chile didn’t appear to be a great threat to the Yanks. But Courier knew better. “So Nico [ Massu] is ranked almost 200. Doesn’t mean a thing in Davis Cup. He’s behind the flag of his country anD can beat anybody on this clay when he’s defending Chile.”
Roddick knew. He had been beaten twice on clay by the springy Massu, Olympic gold medalist (doubles and singles) in 2004. He runs down balls like a rabbit chasing the last cabbage on earth.
“Davis Cup everybody’s vulnerable,” says Roddick, who loved the challenge of entering the intimate sound tunnel, knowing that it was just he against Massu and nearly 5000 who played the match alongside their home boy, cheered and sang to him, blew horns, pounded drums — and wished Courier ill.
Noise poured fourth to the skies, bouncing off the Andes, carrying the combative Massu along with it. But, as Courier said, “Of coure they helped hin. But the crowd was civil. They didn’t interrupt points or act up. Their man gave them a terrific fight. But I knew he would. It was very close, and could have gone into a fifth set.”
Massu was pleased with himself justifiably, smiling and swinghing his ponytail. “I came close to a great player, amd I want to work and move up in the rankings again.”
I hope so, too. He’s good to watch.
Breaking Roddick in the opening game of the second set, Massu gave notice that he would battle, crawl out of corners and blast two-fisted backhand passers.
OK, his defeat of Nico Massu was expected, but what came next was a lanky hurricane ranked No. 165, a townie here in Santiago, named Paul Capdeville. He seemed to roll onto the scene like an avalanche in the neighboring Andes, gathering speed as he overcame John Isner’s 2-set lead and closing off the thoughts of a U.S. runaway.
“Underdogs, underdogs, that’s all we heard about Chile,” rookie Capt Courier managed a smile. “Some underdogs, huh?”
There was no kennel to lock up the supposed underdogs, and when 27-year-old Capdeville finished off one of the strangest victories in Cup annals – one break of serve, the very last game – local folks were barking about the unthought-of chance to puncture the U.S. Cup bubble.
Capdeville’s “win of a lifetime,” as he put it, read: 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. Serving at 3-4 in the third set tie-breaker, Isner looked the victor.
“I let it slip away,” muttered Isner. “so many mistakes.” He looked close to tears, at times covered his head with a towel, clearly needs a lesson in press conference deportment. Everybody loses at one time or another.
A jubilant Capdeville said he had risen from 2 sets down once before. “In the French open. But nobody watched or cared. Today everybody cared. They were with me on every point, win or lose, screaming for me. They carried me. We were part of each other. The wouldn’t let me lose”
They also carried away Isner who blew so many chances, eight break points.
So now, at 1-1, it’s up to the bashing Bryans to make Captain Courier sleep easier after the doubles. Bob and Mike come in as the yanks’ surest things. But who knows? It’s Davis Cup after all, and nobody dreamed that Chile would be competitive into the third day.
But the Andes could be shaken.
March 04 2011 10:14 am | Davis Cup