Davis Cup: Blake's win gives US lead

Even when James Blake was struggling in his Davis Cup match, he knew his teammates were behind him.

updated: December 02, 2007 08:12 IST
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Even when James Blake was struggling in his Davis Cup match, he knew his teammates were behind him.

Blake fed off their support and held off feisty Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3) on Friday night to give the United States a 2-0 lead over Russia in the Davis Cup final.

"They've believed in me the whole year, so I wanted to prove them right, to be honest," Blake said of the US team. "They've had confidence in me every time."

Blake's victory got the US within one win of its first Davis Cup title since 1995. Earlier, Andy Roddick cruised past Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening match on the hard court at Memorial Coliseum.

Bob and Mike Bryan can wrap it up for the US by winning their doubles match against Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev on Saturday.

The crowd was on its feet when Blake went ahead in the final tiebreaker and Youzhny hit into the net for the US victory.

Blake, ranked 13th in the world, took a 5-2 first-set lead in a game that featured him making a spectacular return, running back to the baseline and hitting backward over his head.

After the point Blake pumped his fists and Roddick joined the spectators in wild cheers.

But Blake appeared to tire in the second set, and 19th-ranked Youzhny went up 4-3. Blake talked out loud to himself, saying `C'mon, c'mon."

Blake recovered to win the second set, but ran into trouble again in the third, when Youzhny won the tiebreaker.

It was US captain Patrick McEnroe and his teammates who pulled him through.

"Every time I came over I saw Patrick with a fist pump saying, `Keep doing what you're doing,' That's the best feeling," Blake said. "That's the confidence I talked about that my teammates have, that if I play my game I'm going to give myself the best chance to win."

The marathon match, which Blake called the biggest win of his career so far, lasted 3 hours, 28 minutes.

Roddick threw his hands up in triumph after Tursunov's final return landed long in the first match. Roddick, ranked Number 6 in the world, improved to 6-0 in Davis Cup play this year.

"It's kind of like `so close but so far away.' There's no celebration," he said. "It's one match. The celebration will be saved for when we win, if we win."

Roddick took the first set after he hit an 146-mph serve that Number 34 Tursunov returned long, ending a game that went to deuce four times. Roddick let out a growl after holding serve, and the U.S. fans roared their approval.

Roddick broke Tursunov early in the second set and again to start the third. While he high-fived McEnroe, Tursunov threw up his hands in disgust.

"If there are 12-and-a-half thousand people behind you and you can use them to help you win a tennis match, you would be stupid not to, right?" Roddick said. "Other than cheating, I'll do anything I can to win."

Roddick had 25 aces in the match, which lasted 1 hour, 53 minutes. Tursunov had eight aces.

"I wasn't playing my game," Tursunov said. "I was playing way too passive. I was playing not to miss."

The best-of-five final is a culmination of a year's worth of international competition.

The once-dominant United States has 31 Davis Cup titles but none in 12 years, the longest span without an American victory. Pete Sampras last led the team to victory over Russia on clay in Moscow in 1995.

Russia's captain Shamil Tarpischev pulled a surprise at the draw, leaving fourth-ranked Davydenko out of the singles matches - setting up the first match between Roddick and Tursunov.

Tarpischev didn't say whether he'd stay with Davydenko and Andreev as his doubles team on Saturday.

"I haven't thought about it except that the ones that I have posted to play, and that is Andreev and Davydenko," the captain said.

Davydenko comes into the Davis Cup final at the center of an investigation into unusual betting patterns during a loss to Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina in August.

Betfair, an online gambling company, voided all bets on the match after unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly ranked Argentine throughout the contest in Poland, even after he lost the first set 6-1.

Davydenko retired with an injury in the third set.

Davydenko denies the allegations.

Number 34 Tursunov is the lowest-ranked member of the Russian team, following Davydenko, Number 19 Youzhny and Number 33 Andreev.

"The Americans have very good chances tomorrow," Tarpischev said through a translator. "But as they say, the ball is round so anything can happen."

Both Davis Cup teams include the same players from the semifinals, when the United States beat Sweden 4-1 and Russia defeated Germany 3-2.

The United States last hosted the Davis Cup final in 1992, in Fort Worth, Texas. Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe defeated Switzerland.

Memorial Coliseum, which seats about 12,800, has hosted two previous Davis Cup events, in 1981 and 1984, both US semifinal victories over Australia.

Friday's event was full of pageantry - as well as enthusiastic fans. With an obviously pro-United States crowd, the Russians had their own smaller, but very boisterous, contingent.

Billie Jean King presided over the coin toss for Roddick's match, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight was among the spectators.

Should the US win the doubles match, the reverse singles on Sunday would be shortened to best-of-three sets.