|James Blake celebrates after his singles victory over Austria's Stefan Koubek. (HANS PUNZ/Associated Press)|
VIENNA - Clay nearly became a quagmire for the United States as it began defense of its Davis Cup title.
Andy Roddick was extended to five sets yesterday on what he said was a "terrible" court, and James Blake got by his opening singles with what he suspects was his best match on clay, giving the Americans a 2-0 lead over Austria in the first round.
"This is probably my best day as captain of the team," Patrick McEnroe said. "Of course, winning the Davis Cup last year was huge, but today I was really impressed by the way the guys battled and showed their physical and mental strength under difficult circumstances."
Roddick defeated 57th-ranked Jurgen Melzer, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, on the slow indoor clay, a surface that has bedeviled the US many times. Melzer, who was treated for a thigh injury in the fifth set, varied his game with drop shots from the baseline and unpredictable charges to the net.
"The court was terrible, the worst I ever played on in Davis Cup," Roddick said. "It was the tough match I expected, but I won and that means we accomplished our goal."
Blake had far less trouble once he got past the first set, defeating Stefan Koubek, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
"This was probably my best match ever on clay," Blake said. "I know Stefan is capable of not making any mistakes for a set and a half, so I had to be patient throughout and wait for my chances."
The US can clinch the best-of-five series and reach the quarterfinals by winning today's doubles. Twins Bob and Mike Bryan will play Melzer and Julian Knowle.
Roddick was irritated by the crowd of about 5,000 that often shouted between his first and second serves. The sixth-ranked American hadn't previously dropped a set to Melzer and extended his career record against the Austrian to 7-0. Roddick closed the match with his 20th ace.
"Clay slows down your serve and he returned well, so that frustrated me," Roddick said. "He played too well for me to stay behind. That's why I played more attacking in the decider and fortunately that worked."