United States joins Kazakhstan as first countries into Davis Cup quarterfinals

Only two Davis Cup first-round sweeps were completed on Saturday, with the United States finishing off Serbia and Kazakhstan taking care of Switzerland.

The news was never expected to be good for Serbia, even playing at home. Novak Djokovic is out with recurring physical problems and the Serbs’ absentee list also included Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic, and Filip Krajinovic. Switzerland not only had to go on the road, but also had to do so without the services of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.

Despite being undermanned, Serbia at least managed to treat its fans to three competitive rubbers. Laslo Djere lost to Sam Querrey in four sets before Dusan Lajovic succumbed to John Isner in a fifth-set tiebreaker in Friday’s second singles match. Team USA punched its ticket to the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon, when Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson recovered from a set deficit to scrape past Milojevic and Miljan Zekic, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.

The home team started hot with the first break of the day midway through the opening frame of play, but the next five service breaks all went to the Americans–a break back at the end of the first, two in the second, and one in both the third and the fourth. The end result was a relatively convincing win for Harrison–who won the 2017 French Open doubles title–and Johnson–a bronze medalist in men’s singles at the Rio Olympics.

                                                                 photo credits: Srdjan Stevanovic

“We weren’t surprised,” Harrison said of the doubles quality. “We know that the Serbian team is a good team and there’s a lot of players that are very capable of playing doubles, so we knew that it was going to be tough. Early on, we were a little bit nervous. 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 able to help settle me down after a rough start. I thought we did a really good job of competing really hard throughout the whole match. On some days, it’s most gratifying when you have to go into a tough environment and maybe work around a couple obstacles in your own game to get the game.

“No surprise that they came out and played great on their home court,” Johnson confirmed. “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.”

The Americans’ reward is a home quarterfinal tie against either two-time recent runner-up Belgium or underdog Hungary. Playing in Belgium, David Goffin and company lead the Hungarians 2-1 heading into Sunday.

“These [were] three very difficult, close matches,” United States captain Jim Courier reflected. “Can’t get any closer than 7-6 in the fifth, clearly, in the second singles match, but all the matches had pivotal moments, and we could be easily sitting here talking about how we lost, 3-0, too. [The Serbs] put up a heck of a fight, and our team did the same and came up with some clutch shots when we needed them.

“We’re thrilled to be into the quarterfinals. We’ve played the last two (Davis Cup ties) on the road, so we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”

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