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Davis Cup: What a Rush

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There is nothing like a Davis Cup. Tennis is an individual sport but it is during the Davis Cup that the competition between nations are added to the mix and what you see is a buzz seen usually reserved for the major Tennis tournaments.

On the weekend of September 24th, Charleston Family Circle Tennis arena hosted the United States and Belarus in the semifinal with the winner facing the Spain-France winner in December. Belarus was the Cinderella team in the Davis Cup as they had already upset Russia and Argentina to reach the semis.

The United States featured the second best player in the world and one of the best double team whereas the Belarus number one player was the 61st ranked Max “the Beast” Mirnyl. The Davis Cup weekend featured five matches with four of them being single matches and one double match in the middle. The first team to get to three wins the tie (which is the correct terminology for a Davis Cup competition between nations.) There are five matches, four single matches plus a double in the middle of the competition. The first to get to three wins the tie. Each match is a best of five. The exception to this is on the final day; the matches become the best of three if one team has three victories already.

The opening match featured Andy Roddick challenging Vladimir Voltchkov and from the very beginning, Roddick took command. His opening serve was 152 mph and the opening set was all Roddick as he took the set 6-1. In the Davis Cup, coaching is allowed as the Davis Captains confer with the player. (In a normal Tennis match, coaching is not allowed once the match begins.) In between games, the players huddled with their team Captains. (Captains are essentially the head coaches.) Roddick unleashed rocket forehands and power serves that overwhelmed Voltchkov. After overwhelming the Belarus player in the first set, Roddick continued the shellacking in the second set as he won that 6-3.

The final set saw Voltchkov make one last charge. Each game was hard fought but Roddick superior firepower finally prevailed. The key shot was in the 10th and final game saw Roddick nailing a passing shot past the hard charging Belarusian. To conclude the match, Roddick nailed a 155 mph serve to set a Professional Tennis record. The shot left the crowd agape with mouth wide open. The Americans now had their first match in the tie but the crucial match was coming up.

Max Mirnyl stepped in center court vs. Mardy Fish. Mirnyl means peaceful in Russian but in one of those athletic ironies, his nickname is the beast. Standing 6’5” with a long wingspan, Mirnyl strikes an imposing figure on the court. His opponent was Mardy Fish, an excellent base player but he had still had yet to crack that elite top ten. The opening set saw a tight match with Fish baseline shots versus the Mirnyl net play. There were times that Fish would shoot perfect shots past the tall Mirnyl and there were times that the large wingspan of the Belarusian kept anything from passing. It became a war of nerves with one mistake determining the match. Fish had his break as Mirnyl fail to hold serve in the eleventh game and Fish took the first set 7-5.

The second set was an easy Fish victory as his quickness and passing shots proved decisive. Max Mirnyl looked one step behind as Fish quickness overcame the power of the Belarusian. After breaking Mirnyl service game twice, Fish took a two set to zero lead. One more set and the United States would take a two-match lead. Mirnyl made one last charge as he took the first three game of the third set. Fish lost his concentration and even double faulted the second game away. Mirnyl had his power serve working and even had one 143 mph serve to punctuate the set. Mirnyl won the third set and found himself in the match. The fourth set saw both men making mistakes. Mardy Fish had trouble getting his first serve in but his steady play on returns enable him to block any Mirnyl offensive. The American won the fourth set and the United States took the first two sets with needing only one more match to clinch a spot in the final.

The Saturday event was the clincher. The Bryan brothers play doubles as if they are one person. Mike and Bob Bryan are twins and the two just know when where the other will be. For the first two sets, Max Mirnyl and Vladimir Voltchkov appeared out of sync. The Belarusians never appeared to be on the same page and the Bryan brothers took advantage of every mistake. The first two sets were easy as Bryan Brothers won both, 6-1 and 6-3. The last set was the decisive set of the tie.

The Belarusian team finally played like a team and they coordinated their attack to high efficacy. Each game became like trench warfare as the net play became a zone of blazing yellow streaks coming across the net. The twelfth game was what the Davis Cup was all about. Each shot greeted with loud cheers. With pro-American crowd yelling “USA, USA, USA” and the small Belarus contingent countered with their own cheers punctuated with kazoos. The last point featured one of the longest rallies with every shot demonstrated. Voltchkov returned a blistering shot with a shot that barely tipped the top of the net and rolled over to the American side. Mike Bryan picked up the ball and wristed the shot across the net and past Max Mirnyl racket to clinch the tie. The Americans had their trip to the finals.

The final day was a mere formality. The Belarus team allowed their two young players, Andri Karatchenia and Alex Skrypko to play on the final game against the Americans Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. Skrypko proved competitive in the first set, as he held his own throughout most of the set before succumbed to the more experienced Roddick. Roddick took the second set and the match by the throat as he unleashed devastating serves and forehands to easily win the match.

As the rain fell, Mardy Fish took the first three games from the 15 years Andri Karatchenia. With a four match lead and the rain continuing to come down, the Tie was called. Fish was ahead 3 games to zero in the first set but at this point, it was meaniless. As the raindrops fell on the courts, the fans drifted away and the fireworks that dominated the first two days were but a memory to the crowd. Now the United States will travel to Spain and try to capture their first Davis Cup in nearly a decade.

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