Davis Cup, First Round
The long crescendo transfiguring a dull murmur into a vast roar, stillness giving way to ripples as an exuberant accelerando tears through the throng. Patriotism granted a throat and a body: this is Davis Cup, in glorious tutti! Or it would be if you were not in the regrettably named and sterile Palace of Sports Lokomotiv, Kharkov, where about a hundred people witnessed Robin Haase’s stirring recovery from two sets to love against Illya Marchenko in the fifth and deciding rubber. The Dutch contingent invaded the court, and formed a bouncing orange knot. The few Ukrainians in attendance milled about, certain only in their disappointment, having taken their cue from Marchenko, who’d looked equally lost and glum as the match wore him down. If the beginning of the weekend had been about odd results and brain explosions, it was ending with some gritty heroics. Nearby, in Estonia, Ricardas Berankis manufactured a desperate win from a couple of sets down, finally taking out the Dr Suess inspired Jurgen Zopp 11/9 in the fifth. Still, like Ukraine, Lithuania weren’t going to get it done with only one player.
Heading west to Ostrava, and Andrei Golubev played almost exactly like he always does, but for a minor adjustment that allowed his balls to land in. If pressed, he’d doubtless be unable to tell you what the adjustment actually was, and there’s no reason to think it’ll stick. But he’d also tell you he was pleased it happened today, and won Kazakhstan the tie. For fans of Tomas Berdych, I wonder if it is more disappointing that he actually played decently, and was ultimately outhit. There is a seductive solace in poor form, since the only way is up. Losing while in good form brings one hard up against the awkward idea that your best may not be good enough. Still, Berdych is world No.7 for the time being, and Golubev is mired around 40. We’re constantly told that the depth in the men’s game is such that anyone can beat anyone on a given day. Today it was given to Golubev, who hit an astonishing 90 winners. It made for tremendous viewing, especially if you’re a fan of flashy one-handed backhands. I am.