Friday was an absolute nightmare for United States tennis.
The United States and Great Britain were expected to play a very close opening-round tie this weekend in San Diego, but things have not started off very close at all for the American side. Andy Murray and James Ward both earned victories for the British side on Day 1 and left the Americans shell-shocked on their home soil.
The Americans had to put Donald Young into the lineup this week in place of the injured John Isner, and while Young is improving, it was a bit of a blow to the Americans to lose their highest-ranked player.
Still, despite the loss of Isner, the Americans expected to be able to do enough to win this weekend. The formula was pretty simple: James Ward is the 175th-ranked singles player in the world—beat him on both days of singles play and let the Bryan brothers do their thing in the doubles competition.
So when Young was dominated by Andy Murray in the first match of the day, it was not a surprise at all, but it was a major disappointment.
The first two sets of the match were a disaster for Young. He was terrible on serve, not aggressive like he normally is, and frankly, he looked like the stage was too big for him. There was instant concern that if the Americans and British split the first four rubbers, Young may not be able to handle Ward in the fifth rubber.
Then in the third set, things began to turn around for the young American. He got more aggressive with his shots, started to serve much better and got much more emotionally invested in the match. Still, it was not enough to beat Murray, but it was encouraging to see Young play at a level that would be good enough to win a fifth rubber on Sunday.
The second match of the day featured Sam Querrey against the aforementioned James Ward. Querrey faced a lot of pressure because this was practically a must-win match for the American side, while Ward was essentially playing with house money.
Querrey came out on fire against Ward. He dominated on serve, while Ward could not get any flow going with his game. He made error after error and in 26 minutes dropped the first set to Querrey 6-1.
It looked as if the Americans would do what they needed to do and take advantage of the fact that, while the British had Andy Murray, the rest of their team was weaker overall than the American side.
Then in the second set, Ward fought his way back into the match. He showed a lot of heart in the second set to hang with Querrey and ended up taking the American down in a second-set tiebreak to even the match at a set a piece.
Querrey responded with a strong 6-3 third-set win, though, and was only a set away from tying the David Cup up at a game a piece.
The fourth set belonged to Querrey for a majority of the time. He got up an early break on Ward and then just stayed focused on his serve. Querrey was not dominating the match at the time, but he was just consistently doing what he had to do to win on serve. Then with Querrey leading Ward at 4-3 in the fourth set, Ward found a way to break Querrey's serve, and that essentially ended the match.
Ward went on to win the next two games to win the set 6-4 and set up a fifth and decisive set against the top-ranked American singles player in the tie.
The fifth set was an immediate disaster for Querrey. He dropped the first four games of the set and put himself into a huge hole. Querrey found a way to break Ward, though, and cut the lead to 4-1. There was still a small shimmer of hope for the American side, but Ward quickly turned the lights out by breaking Querrey on serve and then winning the final set by a dominant score of 6-1.
The British side celebrated the win, while the Americans were left stunned on their home soil.
So many questions came to mind immediately.
Was it a bad decision for the Americans to play on clay?
Was it a mistake to put the match in San Diego, which, frankly, produced a very lame crowd?
What happened to Querrey?
Most importantly, was the American side about to be eliminated by Great Britain in their own country?
The latter question is really the only one that matters. Can the Americans come back in this tie, or will they be eliminated by Great Britain?
The comeback bid will begin on Saturday for the Americans as the Bryan brothers take the court to face Colin Fleming and Andy Murray in the doubles match. There is a chance the British side could rest Murray and just have him play in his singles match Sunday, but for now, Murray is scheduled to play.
The Americans are obviously favored in this match and should be able to get the job done and extend their hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals into Sunday.
Then the reverse singles on Sunday will feature Querrey against Murray and Young against Ward. It is really hard to say the Americans are favored in either of these matches. Querrey is of course not favored to beat Murray, and although Young is ranked much higher than Ward in the singles rankings, Ward clearly looked better on Friday.
The key match is definitely Querrey and Murray. The British are entirely focused on this match. All they need is their top seed to win, and they are in the quarterfinals.
This match needs to be the focus of the United States as well. The Bryan brothers are veterans; they can handle the pressure of a must-win situation. The question is if Querrey can handle the pressure of a must-win match against the No. 6 player in the world.
Querrey is 1-5 against Murray in his career, so it is improbable that he should win the match, but not impossible.
If Querrey can play like he did in the first set against Ward where he featured a very good serve and an aggressive forehand, then he has a chance. Murray is going to make Querrey hit a lot of shots in the match and try to grind him down like he does against everyone. Querrey just needs to stay level-headed and grind away against Murray like Murray will do to him.
If the Americans can win this match, then it will be Young against Ward for a quarterfinal spot. After such an emotional win for Ward, it would be hard for him to go out again and match that same intensity, especially after a Murray loss.
The Americans can win this tie still. Sam Querrey has to find a way to pull himself together, though, and play one of the best matches of his career against Andy Murray. Then the rest of the team just has to take care of business.
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