U.S. Davis Cup tennis players Mardy Fish, right, shares a laugh with teammate Mike Bryan after their match-clinching win Saturday.
FRIBOURG, Switzerland — Given a supremely tough draw in the Davis Cup, the United States is off to an exhilarating start.
It swept Roger Federer and Switzerland in the first round, with Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan winning the doubles match on clay, a surface selected by Federer to exploit what was perceived as an American weakness.
But Fish and Bryan, paired for the first time in more than three years, were clearly up for this challenge Saturday before a Swiss crowd that at times turned angry. They defeated Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, the reigning Olympic champions, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
“This is probably going down as one of the most memorable (wins),” said Bryan, who played on the 2007 winning team.
The doubles victory gave the Americans a 3-0 lead in the best-of-five, first-round series. Fish and Bryan built on the momentum from Friday’s riveting singles matches when John Isner stunned Federer in four sets and Fish outlasted Wawrinka in five.
“This was a big step forward for our guys to come in here and play against a team of this caliber,” U.S. captain Jim Courier said. “Our attitude remained strong all the while and we were ready for whatever. That is what you need for any road tie.”
Handling partisan fans is among those demands, and sections of the crowd of some 7,000 were not pleased in the least when Bryan hit Federer and Wawrinka with volleys at close range.
The U.S. will again be on the road for the next round of Davis Cup, an April 6-8 quarterfinal against France or Canada. France leads that match 2-1 in Vancouver British Columbia.
If the favored French advance, they also would likely choose to put the U.S. on clay instead of faster hard courts. The winner would progress to an away semifinal, probably against defending champion Spain and Rafael Nadal, the greatest player of all on the slow red dust.
“We have the worst draw you could have on paper,” Courier said. “But you saw what paper means here, which is absolutely nothing. That’s the statement: It’s that our guys are committed and played well.”
In the six other first-round series in the World Group, three other nations completed 3-0 sweeps Saturday: Czech Republic (vs. Italy), Spain (vs. Kazakhstan) and Argentina (vs. Germany). Ahead 2-1 are Japan (vs. Croatia), Serbia (vs. Sweden) and Austria (vs. Russia).
The U.S. produced the upset of the round despite owning a higher Davis Cup ranking than Switzerland.
“They did really well and got the victory they deserved,” Federer said. “We did have our chances but maybe they were just a touch better than us again today.”
Later, speaking in French to Swiss media, Federer appeared less gracious. He claimed not to be too disappointed while pointing a finger at Wawrinka, who slumped back in his chair looking every inch the junior partner in the relationship.
“I played well enough in doubles, but Stanislas not so much,” Federer said, adding that Wawrinka “didn’t have his best match in singles. It’s a shame, because of that defeat we weren’t able to put the U.S under pressure.”
Fish and Bryan certainly seized every opportunity to exploit Wawrinka’s errors. His serve was broken in the second when he twice double-faulted before Fish hit a rare crosscourt winner from the baseline. In the third, Wawrinka hit back-to-back wayward volleys to drop serve.
“We just had a couple of games where we struggled too much and couldn’t convert ourselves,” Federer had said in English. He has now lost three straight matches dating to his Australian Open semifinals defeat to Nadal two weeks ago.
As tension rose in the sold-out arena, Bryan upset the fans in the next game when he made Federer yelp with pain with a forehand volley that struck his leg.
On Federer’s serve, the U.S. held two set points and Bryan’s volley down the middle split the Swiss pair. Bryan’s double-fist pump celebration drew more whistles from Swiss fans.
Bryan became the villain again when he struck Wawrinka in the midriff with a volley in the opening game of the fourth set. Bryan’s rapid apologies each time failed to quell the fans’ frustration.
“I wasn’t trying to hit anybody. It happens in doubles,” Bryan said. “The fans were looking to get into the match and I’ve seen it a hundred times in Davis Cup.”
Courier praised the professionalism of Fish and Bryan, who extended his exceptional record in Davis Cup doubles to 20-2, and is unbeaten in 11 away matches.
“That is veteran doubles, and that is guys who know how to close things out in the clutch,” he said.
Bryan usually plays with his twin brother. Bob Bryan, however, was unavailable because of the birth of his daughter last week. The only other time Fish and Mike Bryan played together was a five-set victory over Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in a 2008 semifinal in Madrid that Spain won 4-1.
Courier initially chose 19-year-old Ryan Harrison to play with Bryan at Thursday’s draw. But Davis Cup rules allow lineup changes up to one hour before a match.
“It’s great that the guy I have to tee it up with is the best doubles player ever,” said Fish, who won Friday in 4 hours, 26 minutes. “I’m just trying to do my part.”
Swiss captain Severin Luethi dismissed suggestions his team underestimated the Americans’ ability to adapt to a clay court, although one that played faster than expected at Fribourg’s altitude of about 2,000 feet.
Still, Isner showed the Swiss something they could not have expected with his career-best win in taking down Federer.
“You saw a new John Isner here,” said Courier, comparing the big-serving 26-year-old with one year ago, when he wasted a two-set lead in a singles match against Colombia. “He was very indecisive there and he was anything but against Roger.”
When it was over, Courier was asked about his courtside attire of suits and ties, his questioners wondering about the psychology behind his choices.
“I said when I got the job (last year), this will be my uniform,” Courier explained. “I hope you don’t mind it too much, but I honestly don’t really care what you think.”