From sipping mimosas to saving match points

Frances Tiafoe was in Cabo vacationing with his girlfriend, sipping mimosas and enjoying some down time at the end of a long and taxing season when he got a last-minute call-up to join the US team at the Davis Cup Finals in Turin. It was Saturday, just five days ahead of tournament kick-off.
The American cut his holiday short, hopped on a plane, had a cancelled flight and got stuck in Houston before finally linking up with his team-mates in northern Italy on Tuesday.
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On Sunday, Tiafoe played his heart out against an inspired Nicolas Mejia, saving two match points en route to a 4-6 6-3 7-6(7) victory that gave Team USA a 1-0 advantage over Colombia.
It was Tiafoe’s first-ever win in the Davis Cup – he was 0-2 in the competition coming in – and the emotions he showed as he celebrated with his team before sitting at his bench with a towel draped over his head portrayed just how much it meant to him.
“It felt extremely good. Never won a Davis Cup match before. Last tie I played in 2018, lost both, lost in the fifth rubber. I just really wanted to win,” said Tiafoe.
I was on vacation before this. I wasn't supposed to play. I came out here, I'm going to give it my all. Yeah, it was emotional, but in the end I'm happy I got a win for everybody and I put myself on the line for the country.
Tiafoe had a strong finish to his 2021 ATP season. The 23-year-old made the fourth round at the US Open, final in Vienna - beating the likes of Jannik Sinner and Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way - and wrapped up the year with a semi-final showing in Stockholm. Or so he thought.
“Thought my season was done after Stockholm. I was cool with it. I was getting ready to eat my feast for Thanksgiving, and plans changed real quick,” said the world No.38.
“Flight got cancelled in Houston, got stuck in Houston. So I had a lot of adversity things going in. So I was like, ‘If I'm playing, I'm gonna f****** play hard'. It was nice. I'm happy my girlfriend came here with me. I'm happy I ended up getting a win.”
John Isner, who lost both his singles matches this week against Italy and Colombia, gave props to Tiafoe for reporting for duty after he had pulled the plug on his season.
“I thought it was extremely impressive what Frances did,” said Isner. “I thought what his opponent did, as well, was very impressive. But Frances to literally answer the call off of vacation, like actually vacation, and come here and play for this team and play for his country and play like that today, that was no small feat, because he had shut down his year, but he had to gear back up. That's really not easy to do, not easy to do at all. What he did out there today I thought was very impressive.”

‘I will work 10 times harder’

Mejia was playing just his third-ever Davis Cup match and the world No.275 looked inconsolable after he squandered a 6-4 lead in the deciding tiebreak before falling to Tiafoe.
The 21-year-old from Bogota seemed to have an answer for every trick Tiafoe tried to pull on him throughout the contest and received a glowing appraisal from his opponent after the match – something Mejia was touched to hear.
“I appreciate those words. He's a phenomenal player. He's kind of the same generation as me, and he's one of the players that you always kind of looked up to because he was one of the best in our generation,” said Mejia of Tiafoe. “Having the chance to play against him at the highest stage in tennis or one of the highest stages in tennis and play at the level that I played, I think it's very satisfying.”
Mejia showed an incredible level in both of his singles matches against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and against Tiafoe and the Colombian believes his week in Turin can only benefit him moving forward.
“I'm just thinking is just going back home and I will work 10 times harder, work my a** off and hopefully next time I have an opportunity like this, I will take it. Yeah, just gotta work a lot harder. That's all,” he said.
I cannot say I belong exactly to this level, because my ranking, it's 275 at the moment, and I've got to work my way up and I have to earn my right to be playing with these guys.

Bublik’s nod to Medvedev

Alexander Bublik is one of the most colourful personalities on the ATP tour and on Sunday, he was happy to put on a show as he secured Kazakhstan’s place in the quarter-finals with a 6-2 7-6(6) win over Canada’s Vasek Pospisil.
Besides blasting 14 aces, winning 88 percent of his first-serve points and surprising his opponent with an underarm serve, Bublik revelled in the fact that the crowd was against him and took great pleasure in silencing them upon victory, putting his finger to his mouth as he strutted to the net and later borrowing a line from Daniil Medvedev, who famously taunted the New York crowd on his way to the US Open final two years ago.
“As one legend said, ‘when you go to sleep guys, know that I won because of you’,” Bublik said on court in Madrid as the crowd whistled and booed him.
He later added in his press conference:
I think it's all part of the big show. The same guy who boos you, 20 minutes later they ask for autographs. I have nothing against them. It's a show; they're coming in; they're enjoying the time.
“For sure they enjoy to boo. I would do as well, why not? That is just part of the game. I find it funny. I mean, trust me, these people will see me on the street, say, ‘Good play’. I would be happy to see them as well. That's part of our game. So no hard feelings, I guess.”
On his decision to quote Medvedev during his on-court interview, Bublik said: “I remember making so many jokes with him about it. We were joking about it for probably two years. I mean, that was a funny situation with him. I think it's the same with me. That's why I said that.”

Lopez stays a hero ‘til the bitter end

Another day, another impressive win by the 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez – this time against world No.5 Andrey Rublev on Sunday in Madrid.
After his opening singles win in Spain’s tie against Ecuador on Friday, Lopez upped the ante and stunned Rublev 2-6 6-3 6-4 to give his side an early advantage over Russia and earn his first top-five victory in four and a half years.
“As you can imagine this is over any expectations to be honest,” said Lopez. “For me it was already amazing to be here representing my country at 40 years old. I didn’t expect to be the one playing singles, but we had a lot of issues during the week and I had to take that role, walk out on court playing singles.
“Honestly today, playing against Andrey, number five in the world, at this stage of my career in my hometown, this is over any expectations.”
Lopez returned to the court a couple of hours later and lost a three-set heartbreaker in doubles alongside Marcel Granollers to Rublev and Aslan Karatsev.

Serbians owe Russians a drink

Spain’s doubles defeat to the Russians sent the hosts out of the competition and gifted Serbia a place in the quarter-finals as the second-best runners-up in the Group stage.
The Serbians' fate was left hanging in the balance after they lost to Germany on Saturday and they needed Russia to beat Spain in order to advance.
Medvedev joked when a Serbian journalist started to ask him a question in his press conference after the tie: “You must be happy, Vuk,” the Russian said with a chuckle.
It's funny, because during the match, we are already receiving some messages from some people from Serbia, let's call it like this, because I'm not going to say who, and not only me, but a lot of us, saying, ‘Let's go, guys, we believe in you’.
"I feel like that's where it's funny in a good way this format where, yeah, they had to be close to their TVs to cheer us up, let's call it like this."

Leaving their mark

They may have missed out on a place in the quarter-finals, but nations like Czech Republic and Hungary can walk away from the Davis Cup Finals with their heads held high after some brave performances against more experienced opposition.
Ranked 143 in the world, the 21-year-old Tomas Machac of Czech Republic made his competition debut and pulled off two singles victories in as many ties against French veteran Richard Gasquet and British world No.25 Daniel Evans.
His 20-year-old compatriot Jiri Lehecka also gave world No.12 Cameron Norrie a run for his money by stretching the Brit to three sets before surrendering.
Meanwhile, Hungarian world No.282 Zsombor Piros produced two stellar upsets in singles, defeating Australia’s John Millman and former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia.
“I'm shaking, to be honest. I try to rest in the locker room. My hands, my legs were a little bit shaking, so it's hard to handle physically,” the 22-year-old said after downing Cilic on Sunday.
I'm proud of myself, for my team, because we have maybe the biggest heart and we are fighting and we are showing it to the world this weekend. I'm very glad that so many people see the Hungarian spirit.
“If this doesn't give me the drive, then I don't know what will. I think it will give me very much confidence for the next year and for the next matches,” added the former Australian Open junior champion.

Quote of the day

“It was a fun experience. I just wish, you know, in a team competition, I wish I could have helped my team out more, and I didn't. It's pretty disappointing. You know, you feel like you sort of let the guys down. I mean, I know they don't feel that way, but it's hard for me not to feel that way. That's really the beauty of these competitions. It's the beauty of it, and it's the beast of it too. You can be the person that doesn't contribute. That was me.”
– Isner offers a solid perspective after his loss to Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan.

Stats of the day

  • Lopez won 30 of his 52 net approaches during his three-set win over Rublev.
  • Great Britain are through to the quarter-finals for the sixth time since 2014.
  • With their 2-1 tie victory over Austria on Sunday, Germany are now a perfect 6-0 against their neighbours in Davis Cup.
  • Kazakhstan’s Bublik is now 6-1 win-loss in Davis Cup singles matches following his triumph over Pospisil on Sunday.
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