JACKSONVILLE, USA: The most pressing question heading into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie between the USA and Brazil was whether American John Isner would play.
Isner, the top ranked American player at world No. 13, had sustained a right knee bone bruise and missed the Australian Open. He was practicing in Jacksonville all week long but didn’t determine he was definitely fit enough to play until Wednesday.
“I had a very encouraging week of practice, which was what I was looking for,” Isner said. “I wasn’t sure how my knee was going to react when I really started practising hard because it’s been a while. Practice has gone well and that was the main decision for us and my knee really hasn’t bothered me. So I feel like I’m ready to go and these guys feel like I’m ready to go as well.”
The ultimate decision that Isner was in shape to lead the American squad was made by US captain Jim Courier.
“We came into the week hoping for clarity on John’s knee and hoping it would respond the way it has,” Courier said. “He’s practised hard every day and has had no setbacks. In fact, he’s gone forward with the way it was feeling. From my eyes, and our medical teams’ eyes, he’s set for 10 sets of tennis if he needs to play them this weekend.”
This first round tie to be played at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena will start off on Friday with the USA’s second chair -- No. 22 Sam Querrey -- facing Brazil’s top player, No. 33 Thomaz Bellucci, for a first career meeting. Isner will then square off against No. 145 Thiago Alves in another first-time outing.
Many nations surrender the doubles point before they even step onto the court against Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, acknowledging that the No. 1 team in the world who just won a record 13th Grand Slam title at the 2013 Australian Open, are a tough combination to beat.
However, the duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares actually enjoy a 2-1 winning record over the Bryans in past matches. However, the Bryans won their last encounter at Valencia, Spain, on clay.
“That’s flattering, but we have to go out there and play good tennis and execute,” said Bob Bryan, when asked about other teams frequently anticipate losing the doubles point. “This is a team that’s beaten us before; they’ve beaten us at the French (Open) so we have to respect them. It’s going to be a war.”
On Sunday, the reverse singles matches start with Isner against Bellucci -- their head-to-head is 1-1, but they haven’t played since the 2010 Rome Masters second round. Querrey and Alves will close out the weekend in another maiden meeting.
As the USA have played most of their ties away from home over the past few years, this weekend marks the first time that Isner and Querrey will experience the luxury of playing a home tie with fans on their side.
Isner holds a 7-5 win-loss Davis Cup record with two of those wins coming in doubles. Querrey has a 1-5 win-loss record in Davis Cup singles action and has never played doubles.
Both players talked about playing Davis Cup with home court advantage at the draw.
Querrey said, “We’re both very excited as we’ve both been playing some away ties the last three or four years, so to finally get one at home is thrilling. It will be nice to have a hard court and to have the fan support, the crowd behind us instead of getting the boos every time you step on the court.”
Isner said, “I think this is my seventh (tie) and we’ve always had the red stuff underneath our feet so it’s been different to practise on hard court during a Davis Cup week. It’s been an easy travel schedule to get here which we’ve never had before. We’re going to go out there and try to play our best.”
Bellucci has a 13-7 win-loss record in Davis Cup with one win coming in doubles, while Alves has lost the two previous Davis Cup singles matches he’s played in his career.
“We look for competitive matches in all the matches,” Courier said. “Obviously we’d love to win easily and I’m sure they feel the same way. But we don’t expect that at all and we’re ready to put the helmets on and go to battle.”
Brazilian captain Joao Zwetsch admits that the court is playing a little fast for his squad and the crowd will be rooting for the Americans. That said, Zwetsch isn’t surrendering anything about this tie prior to doing battle.
“We did a very good preparation to face the USA team,” Zwetsch said. “We know that they are really good, they're really strong. They're going to have a great support here with the crowd. But we also have a good experience to play in these conditions. We're expecting to do well.”
Bellucci reiterated his captain’s thoughts: “That is not a surprise that they are favoured playing on these fast courts,” said Bellucci, Brazil’s top singles player. “We prefer to play on clay. On hard courts, we are going to have to be more aggressive.”
This first round tie represents the first time that Brazil is playing in the World Group since 2003. In total, they’ve reached the Davis Cup semifinal on two occasions; in 1992 and 2000.
In contrast, the USA holds a record 32 Davis Cup titles and this is their 279th Davis Cup tie.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Sam Querrey (USA) v Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)
R2: John Isner (USA) v Thiago Alves (BRA)
R3: Bob Bryan/ Mike Bryan (USA) v Marcelo Melo/ Bruno Soares (BRA)
R4: John Isner (USA) v Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)
R5: Sam Querrey (USA) v Thiago Alves (BRA)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live