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Sock, Isner give U.S. a commanding 2-0 lead over Croatia in Davis Cup

July 15, 2016 10:09 PM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

Jack Sock turned in one of the most memorable performances in recent U.S. Davis Cup memory and John Isner kept the momentum rolling with a win of his own to put Team USA on the brink of a spot in the semifinals.

Sock rallied to beat world No. 12 and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, in a three-hour, 16-minute thriller.

That, combined with John Isner’s 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Borna Coric, means the U.S. could wrap up the tie with a Bryan brothers victory tomorrow.

"Obviously we're happy to be 2-0," U.S. captain Jim Courier said. "Doesn't change our job tomorrow. That's to win the doubles. For us, we're putting on the hard hats and letting Bob and Mike do what they do so well out there. Most of the time in Davis Cup that's been enough. No guarantees, but I like our chances."

If Mike and Bob Bryan falter in the only match to be played on Saturday afternoon, that will mean the tie will be decided on Sunday when Isner faces Cilic and, if necessary, Sock goes against Coric.

With temperatures hovering in the low 60s and cloud cover blanketing the sky over the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Portland, Ore., Sock strggled early before finding his footing in his first Davis Cup tie on American soil.

But as the sun came out and the temperature rose, so did Sock’s level of play, which energized the vocal crowd and carried Sock over the finish line.

“I haven't played a ton of five-setters in my career,” said Sock after his comeback against the 2014 US Open champion. “Haven't come back from two sets to love down. To do that today, in front of the home crowd for the team, it almost feels extra special today. To do it today for the team in this, the first match to get us off to a good start, feels unreal.”

If Sock was the first athlete out of the starting blocks in the team relay, Isner was the man who took the baton and ran with it.

Fueled by Sock’s emotional comeback, Isner came out firing against the young Coric, sending down 23 aces and playing the big points the most efficiently.

"I was in a good spot going out there today thanks to Jack," said Isner. "I'm just sitting right here and he's down two sets to love and things aren't looking too good. He won the third set and I saw that he had a lot of positive energy on his side. Then he wins that fourth set and I'm getting really animated in the locker room in the fifth set. He was able to pull it out by playing incredible tennis."

Friday’s first match started slowly for the U.S., going against a player in Cilic who was riding on the form that carried him to the second week of Wimbledon and within one point of beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.

Croatia’s No. 1 player raced out to a two-sets-to-love lead behind two breaks in the first set and another three in the second.

But after 23 unforced errors in the first two sets, Sock cleaned up his game as Cilic went off the boil. Sock raced out to a 5-2 lead in the third, winning all but one point on his first serve despite his momentum temporarily halted one game from winning the set by Cilic’s seven-minute medical timeout.

With one set under his belt, the flow of the match began to change. Sock started making more returns and Cilic was unable to capitalize on his chances.

Sock earned the only break of serve in the fourth set, but fell behind, 3-1, in the fifth. A vital break helped Sock back into the set and it was all one-way traffic the rest of the way, with Sock winning six of the final seven games to seal the victory.

“I maybe made a few smarter decisions on the serve,” said Sock, who was oficially named to his first U.S. Olympic team on Friday. “Made a lot more first serves to kind of put it in the spots where I could get forehands, start the rally. Returning the whole time I felt like I could get in a lot of his games. The court is slow enough I could get back on the serve and make it neutral. Just stayed the course really and was lucky enough to get the win."

If Sock’s match was characterized by grinding out a comeback, Isner’s was all about power. The world No. 16 hit 23 aces, relying on his main weapon to overcome a shaky baseline game that resulted in 39 errors to just 13 winners.

But despite the chances afforded to Coric, it was Isner who found an extra gear when he needed it the most, saving all eight break points he faced and converting on three of the seven he created.

The match turned on one late break in each of the first two sets, both with Coric serving at 4-5. That gave Isner a two-set lead, and a third break in the final set gave him a 3-1 lead he did not relinquish.

The winner of this best-of-five match tie will face the winner of the France-Czech Republic quarterfinal in September's semifinals. That tie is tied at 1-1 after the first day of play.

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