United States clinches first-round victory

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ James Blake and Mardy Fish made a solid impression on U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe.

Playing just their fourth match together, Blake and Fish clinched a first-round U.S. victory by beating Slovakia's Jan Kroslak and Karol Beck 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday.

Before the series began, McEnroe chose to use the 20-year-old Fish in doubles instead of Davis Cup veteran Todd Martin. McEnroe wouldn't say for certain that Blake and Fish will be paired again in the second round, but he clearly liked what he saw.

``These guys have made a statement today by the way they played and the way they handled themselves all week,'' he said. ``I'll feel a lot more comfortable putting them in the next time, I'll tell you that.''

The victory ended a string of five straight doubles losses by the United States and put the U.S. team up 3-0 in the best-of-five series. The United States will play the Morocco-Spain winner in the second round. Spain leads that series 2-1.

``It's above everything else. The atmosphere is unbelievable,'' Fish said of his Davis Cup debut. ``It's nothing that I ever expected and it's just incredible. No win in any normal tournament can top any win in this.''

Fish double-faulted on his second serve of the match but otherwise played solidly as the U.S. team won comfortably.

``Mardy came out calm, ready to play,'' said Blake, now 3-0 in Davis Cup. ``He was nervous after that first game but we got through it and then he said he felt fine. I had total confidence in him after that.''

The U.S. team was broken only once, when Fish was trying to serve out the match at 5-2 in the fourth set. But with the United States still up a break, Blake was able to serve it out in the 10th game.

Fish's service return up the middle allowed the United States to break Beck at love in the fourth game of the first set. Beck had three volley errors in that game and eight in the set.

Blake netted a volley to give the Slovakian pair, who had never played together, the break they needed in the tiebreaker. But the United States was in control the rest of the way.

In the fourth game of the third set, Fish hit a nice backhand return of a serve and Kroslak netted it to give the United States the break. Blake had two of his three aces as he served out the set.

A whistling forehand return of serve by Fish gave the United States a break in the third game of the fourth set. The U.S. team went up another break in the seventh game.

``We had some chances but the biggest difference between us was on the volley,'' Kroslak said. ``They were much better on the volley and that was, I think, why they won.''

McEnroe said he will use Blake instead of Pete Sampras in the first singles match Sunday, against Kroslak. Andy Roddick will play Beck in the second match. Sampras and Roddick each won their singles matches Friday.

Elsewhere in world group play, Jiri Novak and David Rikl beat Brazil's Andre Sa and Alexandre Simoni 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 to give the Czech Republic an insurmountable 3-0 lead at home.

In Metz, France, Paul Haarhuis and Sjeng Schalken rallied the Netherlands to 2-1 against defending champions France, beating Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.

The other early matches each stand 2-1 and will depend on Sunday's reverse singles as Spain leads Morocco, Britain jumped ahead of Sweden, Russia has the advantage over Switzerland, and Croatia leads Germany.

In Birmingham, England, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski came from a set down to maintain their unbeaten Davis Cup doubles record, beating Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson and Jonas Bjorkman 7-6 (1), 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3.