Report Card: Jim Courier, U.S. Davis Cup team shine in Switzerland
Mardy Fish (left) led the U.S. to a 5-0 sweeping of Switzerland to reach the World Group quarterfinals. (Peter Klaunzer/EPA)
It was a banner weekend for Team America, as the U.S. spoiled the party for Roger Federer and Co. in Switzerland with one of the biggest upsets in Davis Cup history. While the men were embroiled in Davis Cup (Spain, Serbia, Argentina, France, Czech Republic, Austria, Croatia all won to join the U.S. in the World Group quarterfinals), the ladies were in Paris and Pattaya, Thailand, where Angelique Kerber and Daniela Hantuchova walked away with titles.
Let's take a look back at the week's action in grade form.
Team USA: A-plus. In a fair world, the Americans' 5-0 sweep of the heavily favored Swiss would have been the sports story of the weekend. But when you're competing against Linsanity and Tiger Woods on a beach of pebbles, well, your accomplishments just might get buried below the fold. That's a shame, because you can't say enough about the Americans' effort, which left the Swiss team in finger-pointing disarray.
It's not that this seemed an unwinnable tie for the Americans -- beating Stanislas Wawrinka twice over the weekend and winning doubles would have done it -- but a 3-0 drubbing after the first two days? That was a complete shock to everyone except the men wearing red, white and blue in Fribourg, Switzerland. From Mardy Fish outlasting Wawrinka deep into a fifth set in the opening singles rubber, to two relatively perfunctory four-set knockouts (John Isner of Federer in the second singles and Fish/Mike Bryan clinching the tie by beating Federer/Wawrinka in doubles), few would have predicted this result. Take away any context from this matchup and a casual observer would have thought the Americans were the dominant favorites.
I wrote Saturday that U.S. captain Jim Courier deserves praise, too, as his aggressive tactic of using Fish early and often (Bryan was originally going to play doubles with Ryan Harrison) paid off. The U.S. is through to face France in the quarterfinals on April 6-8. The French have choice of surface, but something tells me they'll think twice about selecting red clay.
Team Switzerland: D. One of the enduring images from the U.S.-Switzerland tie was Swiss captain Severin Luthi standing in front of the bench between points just ... staring. I'm sure he was just waiting to make eye contact with his players to urge them on, but the cameras rarely caught that moment. Over and over it was Luthi just standing there, staring off into the distance, with a look that said, "I literally have no idea what's going on right now."
That pretty much summed up the weekend for the Swiss, who looked shell-shocked from the outset. Courier's team unleashed an all-out offensive against Wawrinka and Federer and the Swiss almost looked ... insulted? At no point during the weekend did the Swiss show signs of a desire dig in and fight back. Wawrinka never looked like he wanted to be there, Federer seemed to mentally throw in the towel against Isner in the fourth set, and their decisive doubles venture lacked any spark. Put simply, it was a weak effort.
Angelique Kerber: A. Her run to the U.S. Open semifinals last fall was a shock. Her first WTA title, a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-3 win over Marion Bartoli on Sunday in Paris, was not. Since her breakout in New York, Kerber has made three semifinals. And, on the whole, she's lost to quality opposition this year (Flavia Pennetta in Auckland, Mona Barthel in Hobart, Maria Sharapova in Melbourne), a good sign of consistency from a player who's working her way up the rankings.
In Paris, Kerber knocked off the top two seeds (Sharapova and Bartoli) and had to fight through back-to-back three setters, beating Yanina Wickmayer in the semifinals and then Bartoli in the finals. As for questions about her nerves, how about this: She had match point and served for the title in the second set against Bartoli, was broken, and still came through in the third set to win.
"I got a little bit nervous at 5-2 in the second set, but she was playing very well from that moment too," Kerber said after the match. "I had nothing to lose today -- she was the favorite and I just kept fighting on every point, and it worked."
With the victory, Kerber joins Andrea Petkovic, Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges as the fourth German in the top 25 (she's at No. 22).
Maria Sharapova: C-minus. The Russian rises to No. 2 this week after Petra Kvitova chose not to defend her title in Paris, but her straight-set loss to Kerber in the Paris quarterfinals was still unexpected. Sharapova manages her schedule well (she's played the fewest number of tournaments of anyone in the top 10) and doesn't overplay, which makes her early-round losses that much more problematic.
Jim Courier's Suit: A-plus. I find it odd that for a sport that is supposed to be pish-posh and elitist, so many people are scoffing at Courier's spiffy sartorial choice. I've never understood sports in which the coach sits on the sideline wearing the same athletic gear as the players (this is especially egregious in baseball and soccer). It looks ridiculous. So credit to Courier for unapologetically rocking the suit.
"I said when I got the job [last year], this will be my uniform," Courier said this weekend. "I hope you don't mind it too much, but I honestly don't really care what you think." With results like this week's, no one is arguing, Jim.