Sock, Isner give U.S. commanding Davis Cup lead over Switzerland

February 3, 2017 05:14 PM

By Ashley Marshall,

Team USA is on the verge of returning to the Davis Cup quarterfinals after Jack Sock and John Isner gave the U.S. a commanding 2-0 lead over Switzerland on Day 1 of competition.

Top-ranked American Sock defeated Marco Chiudinelli, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, and Isner rallied to beat Henri Laaksonen, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6, inside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center on Friday. The victories leave the U.S. needing one win from the final three matches to clinch their World Group first-round tie.

"You know, there are always few extra nerves playing Davis Cup," Sock said. "When you're playing for your country, being a part of a team, maybe at a normal event, normal tournament, you come out swinging a little bit more. I think I was a little hesitant at the beginning, maybe too conservative playing when obviously my game is to kind of play big and hit big forehands and be aggressive."

The U.S. holds a 3-1 head-to-head record over Switzerland in Davis Cup, last meeting in the 2012 World Group first round in Fribourg, Switzerland. A fourth triumph would put America back into the last eight in the largest international team competition in sports.

Team USA turned to its two aces on Day 1 to get on the board.

Sock lost his only previous match with world No. 146 Chiudinelli, but the world No. 20, the U.S.'s top-ranked player, is a far different player from the 17-year-old that arrived in New York City to make his Grand Slam main draw debut six-and-a-half years ago.

Playing his fourth Davis Cup tie, Sock started slowly and played within himself for the first hour against Chiudinelli, an opponent who came into the team event without a win in 2017.

After nine consecutive holds without a break point to start to tie, Sock earned the first breakthrough in the 10th game. Serving at 4-5, Chiudinelli saved five set points before the world No. 20 finally broke through to take the opening 44-minute set.

The break seemed to take all of the air out of the Swiss 35-year-old's sails. Sock broke again at the start of the second set and then twice in succession to begin the third. 

Overall, Sock didn't face a break point until the middle of the third set – he saved four in the fourth game – and won the rubber for Team USA moments later when he broke for the third time in the set. The win improved Sock’s Davis Cup singles record to 4-2.

In the second match of the day, Isner withstood a fighting performance from Laaksonen to put the U.S. on the cusp of advancing to April's quarterfinals.

After Laaksonen broke Isner at 4-5 to grab the first set, the American rallied, securing breaks of his own in the fifth and seventh games of the second stanza to level the match at one set apiece. 

The world No. 23 broke twice more in the third set to forge ahead, but he needed a tiebreak in teh fourth, which he won 7-1, to secure the victory. Isner is now 12-10 in Davis Cup singles play and 14-10 overall in 13 ties.

"I'll take the film of that first set and just throw it in the fire, delete that one," said Isner, who recorded his 500th Davis Cup ace during the win. "I think more than anything I was a little bit nervous, and that was affecting my footwork quite a lot. With me being so big and when my footed work is not sharp, it can be ugly. It was in the first set.

"[U.S. Davis Cup captain] Jim [Courier] stayed on me to stay positive, even though I wasn't feeling very positive out there. I think that's actually what tilted the match in my favor a little bit. Certainly could have been cleaner, but Davis Cup you ties throw out rankings and whatnot, it's tough touch out there in these matches, so I'm happy to get the win."

The U.S. will have a chance to seal the tie on Saturday, when Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson team up to play Antoine Bellier and Adrien Bossel. The last time Team USA won a first-round match on home soil was four years ago to this day, in 2013, when Querrey won a decisive fifth match to see off Brazil in Jacksonville, Fla.

Querrey and Johnson have each played one Davis Cup doubles match before, partnering in a straight-sets victory over Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin and Farrukh Dustov. That win in the Davis Cup playoffs in September 2015 – Johnson’s debut with the team –  gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead and helped the team remain in the World Group for 2016.

Should the U.S. advance to the next round, it would either host the Czech Republic in April or travel to Australia. Australia won both of its singles matches on Day 1 to establish a 2-0 lead. The U.S. is 19-7 in the quarterfinals since the World Group format was instituted in 1981, including 14-4 in quarterfinal ties at home.