By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
FRIBOURG, Switzerland – Mike Bryan came to Switzerland with 19 wins to just two losses in his Davis Cup career in doubles, and along with his brother Bob, the two have been some of the most clutch players in U.S. Davis Cup Team history.
The pair clinched the 2007 Davis Cup title for the U.S. over Russia in Portland, Ore., among their tie-clinching victories, and on Sunday Mike added another to his list, which was also one of the best.
With the U.S. up 2-0 heading into the doubles rubber Saturday, Mike Bryan and Mardy Fish capped a great two days of play with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 over Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka to clinch the 2012 Davis Cup First Round best-of-five tie for the U.S. 3-0 over Switzerland.
The U.S. came into the tie as the underdog, playing one of the greatest players in history, on indoor red clay and in his home country, but a top-level effort from the entire team pulled out the upset.
"This is probably going to go down as one of the most memorable, up there with Portland," Bryan said of this win, his 20th in Davis Cup. "Really tough tie on paper to play Switzerland, a really strong team, on the road and dirt. I thought everyone on the team stepped up and played great. I thought (U.S. Davis Cup Captain) Jim (Courier) did a great job coaching and today was just a dogfight and we just hung in there and luckily it went our way."
With the win, the U.S. now advances to the Davis Cup Quarterfinals in April against the winner of the first round tie between Canada and France.
The U.S. led 2-0 after Day 1 Friday behind a five-set, four and a half hour, gutsy win for Fish over Wawrinka and a four-set win for John Isner over Federer, for his biggest career win, and first career win in a live Davis Cup rubber.
Courier was very pleased with the hard work and focus his team put in the entire week on the indoor clay surface, which was playing and bouncing faster than outdoor clay court, and they felt more comfortable playing on it throughout the week.
"Our attitude remained strong all week along, we were ready for whatever and that is what we needed," he said. "In a road tie, you have to come in ready for the unexpected, ready for things to be the worst and our guys never wavered from that commitment. And I think that showed that when we got bad bounces, as did the Swiss, we just shook them off and kept playing and worked out well from that standpoint."
Ryan Harrison was originally nominated to play the doubles rubber with the co-world No. 1 Bryan, but with the clinch on the line, Courier turned to the more experienced Fish, the world No. 8 in singles, to team with Bryan. Bob Bryan did not make the trip to Switzerland, staying home with his newborn baby, but still sent his support to the team shortly after the match via email.
It was just the second match Mike Bryan had played in the last ten years without his brother, but the only other time he played with someone else, it was Fish, and also a Davis Cup victory, back in 2008 over Spain.
Fish made a great rebound from his physical match Friday, and said he felt great on Saturday, and happy the team could clinch in doubles.
"Physically I felt fine. This is what we train for. Mentally Davis Cup can take a lot out of you, so three days in a row would have been tough to play but we are happy about that and happy to pull through," Fish said, referring to the fourth singles match he was scheduled to play first Sunday against Federer. "It is great the guy I have to tee it up with is the best doubles player ever, it is pretty easy. I am just trying to do my part on that side."
Both Bryan and Fish brought their top-level tennis in this match, from serves to returns to volleys, and dropped serve just once in the entire match, in the opening game of the first set, and were efficient on their own break point chances, converting four of seven opportunities. For the entire match, they faced just three break points, all in the opening game, and combined converted 70 percent of their first serves.
The Americans did not have a break point opportunity in the first set but took the first one they had in the second set to go up 4-2 when Wawrinka double faulted.
The match remained tight, with excellent play from all players, and Bryan and Fish took the lead in the third set, also breaking Wawrinka, when the Swiss hit a shot wide after a great return from Bryan set up the break point.
They closed out the third with a backhand winner from Bryan down the line to big yells and fist pumps as they broke Federer for the first time to put them just one set from the victory.
"They are the Olympic gold medalists and we knew we had to make a lot of first serves," Bryan said. "It is tough to lob in the altitude so we were closing pretty tight and just going for our shots and we knew it would come to do a few break points there and luckily we capitalized. It is not very easy to win on the road. The crowd is pretty loud and I think Mardy stepped up, he played a fourth and a half hour match yesterday and then came back come out in just a few hours."
As the fourth set progressed, the pivotal moment came in the fourth game, on Wawrinka’s serve, after Bryan hit a forehand long on the American’s first break point chance. On the next point, the ball skipped past Fish’s racquet at the net, but Bryan was there to pick up his doubles partner, reaching the ball and smacking a forehand winner down the right line for a break and 3-1 lead.
From there, Bryan and Fish served out the win, putting the U.S. into the quarterfinals and scoring the upset when Wawrinka returned into the net on Bryan’s serve to close out the match.
Federer gave credit to the entire U.S. team for its victory, knowing they just played the big points better in doubles Saturday and that Isner did against him Friday.
"We played well for a long time actually, just had a couple games where sometimes we struggled a bit too much and could not convert ourselves. But they did well and got the victory they deserved over the weekend," he said. "It is pity we couldn’t push it to Sunday but that is how it is. It is disappointing, but we are not too down about it, because we have respect for their performance."
Reflecting on the doubles clinching win and both days of play, Courier credited his team for playing the big points well and taking advantage of opportunities, which is the reason they were celebrating Saturday.
"Our guys played strong, waited for their chances. Roger and Stan were serving very big in the first set, hitting a lot of lines," Courier said. "They knew they would get a chance and when they got the chance, they had a very high conversion rate whenever they got a look. That is veteran doubles that is guys who know how to close these things out in the clutch. This match could be very different out here, these things look big on paper at 3-0 but we could easily be in a dogfight right now, but we won big points and that is why we are talking in the past tense now."