Roddick, Bjorkman used kick serves best
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- The slow hard court became the third player in Friday's two Davis Cup quarterfinal matches between the United States and Sweden, bringing to mind the question: Could the United States be up 2-0 instead of 1-1, if a faster court had been used?
Experience turned out to be the other big factor as American Mardy Fish lost his match to Jonas Bjorkman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, while Andy Roddick defeated Sweden's Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.
Home advantage bestows the right to select the surface and venue. U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe selected the surface his top player -- world No. 2 Roddick -- would do best upon and picked an outdoor venue because of the Swede's high success rate indoors. However, a slightly faster surface could have helped Fish's game, while not hurting Roddick's versatile power.
"I think that it helps our team overall," McEnroe said. "Obviously, you have to balance some of those things. You also have to think a little bit about the opposition.
"But, you know, I think it's a good surface for our doubles guys. But, you know what, you got to line it up, you got to tee it up, and you got to play. And you got to execute no matter what surface it is."
With Roddick experienced at winning whether he's playing well or not, perhaps Fish could have used the advantage. Roddick talked about it last week at the Nasdaq-100 Open; it's important to know you can win even when you're not playing well. Fish doesn't quite have that edge yet.
"(It was) just one of those matches where you're trying your hardest to just get a win," Fish said, "knowing that you're not playing your greatest and really didn't come out on the winning end."
Roddick said you need to look at how well the Swedes also play on a fast surface.
"Enqvist is a great fast-court player," Roddick said. "Bjorkman is most comfortable on fast courts. As I kind of showed a little bit tonight, they're more comfortable when the ball's in the strike zone and not up. So I think you have to take those factors into consideration, as well."
A slow surface means that the ball bounces higher. On this surface, when hit well, it bounced around the players' ears. The two players who used the kick serve to their advantage and varied the pace the best -- Roddick and Bjorkman -- won their matches.
Players often use kick serves as their second serve, but Bjorkman often made it a first serve to take advantage of the high bounce. Every once in a while, he'd throw in some heat, making it difficult for Fish to anticipate the pace. Bjorkman didn't have the same problem with Fish's serve, despite his 19 aces.
"He was putting them in hard and deep," Fish said of Bjorkman's returns. "First serves, second serves, was trying to mix it around. Was on them every time."
Because of the high bounce, they also could not come into the net and take the ball on the rise. Although both Fish and Bjorkman prefer to come to net, Bjorkman managed to win the point 66 percent of the time at net compared to Fish winning 59 percent of his approaches.
"I would say that a kick serve really is effective here, which I think both me and Mardy would normally come behind the second serve and come in," Bjorkman said. "But today, the situation with the court, it takes off a lot with the spin. It makes it really hard to sort of go with the ball."
Fish won the opening set on a point that Bjorkman and Sweden Davis Cup captain Mats Wilander questioned (for almost three minutes with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and referee Alan Mills). Instead of letting it throw him, 32-year-old Bjorkman relied on previous Davis Cup experience.
"I would say it definitely fired me up a little bit," Bjorkman said with a broad grin. "There were some dodgy calls today, very dodgy. It's part of the game."
In addition, Fish and Bjorkman faced three rain delays totaling almost three hours. When they came back after the final delay, the U.S. crowd, most of whom stayed, became raucous -- even cheering if Bjorkman missed his first serve. Bjorkman said he didn't mind that the crowd, saying, "For me, this is the best part of Davis Cup."
Bjorkman said he's developed patience and a better understanding of his own game in the past 18 months.
"I've really managed to put my sort of weaker spots of my serve and my forehand to be almost like a weapon, and I didn't have that before," Bjorkman said. "I'm more comfortable out on the court when I know that when I play my best game, I can compete with anyone out there."
Roddick seems to feel the same way even when he's struggling. Down a break in the first set 3-1, Roddick came back to win the first set 6-4. Time after time, Roddick comes up big under pressure. While Fish said he started thinking about letting down his country, and he seemed to tighten up the more the crowd chanted, Roddick fed off the energy.
"I think he's strong up here," Wilander said, indicating his head. "I think that's why he's not missing. & I think he's figured out what he has to do to win matches."
"Luckily, it's no secret that I do play my best tennis on U.S. soil," Roddick said.
Roddick said Fish just needs more experience and a few more big wins to feel the same way. If the tie has not been clinched by the fifth match, McEnroe said, Fish just needs to find a balance and he can play aggressively against Enqvist.
"Mardy, to me, is just, you know, figuring out more and more how to use his game and use his weapons," McEnroe said. "Sometimes that can be confusing for a player because you can do a lot of different things."
Surface could play a role again on Saturday, but the Americans think it will positive for them. The reigning French Open doubles champions, the world No. 1 team of Bob and Mike Bryan like playing on a slower surface, as McEnroe pointed out. Considering that in doubles they won the Tennis Masters Cup and were runners-up at the U.S. Open, they are among the best on hard court, too.
But don't think such a strong team is a slam dunk. "Bjorkman is one of the best doubles players in the world," McEnroe said. "And Thomas Johansson has won a Grand Slam (title) before, so you have to respect him."
How important is it that the United States wins doubles? In their last 45 ties, the United States is 25-2 when it wins the doubles overall and 11-2 when it wins the doubles on home soil.
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.
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