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Will The History Book Rewrite Itself?

Friday, September 21, 2007

There’s a line in ‘Waterloo’, the song that launched the iconic Swedish pop group Abba in 1974, that runs: “The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.” That could very easily be Sweden's omen going into this weekend’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal that sees the home side as distinct underdogs against the powerful United States.Three times the Americans have visited Gothenburg’s charismatic Scandinavium arena, three times it’s been a semifinal or final, and three times the visitors have left with their tails between their legs. But for it to happen a fourth time, something highly unexpected will have to happen over the next three days, and at the very least Thomas Johansson looks like he must beat James Blake on the opening day of the tie. The line-up for the weekend is:

Joachim Johansson (SWE) v Andy Roddick (USA)
Thomas Johansson (SWE) v James Blake (USA)

Simon Aspelin/Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) v Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA)

Thomas Johansson (SWE) v Andy Roddick (USA)
Joachim Johansson (SWE) v James Blake (USA)

Johansson Returning After Eight Months

True, it’s hard to predict the opening rubber, in which the big-serving Joachim Johansson (no relation to Thomas) plays his first match for eight months against the biggest server in world tennis, a man he beat in five sets at the 2004 US Open. But assuming Andy Roddick wins that – and everyone in Gothenburg acknowledges that the longer the match goes on, the more Roddick’s chances increase – the pressure would be on the elder Johansson to beat Blake, given that the US have the world’s best doubles pair parading their near-perfect Davis Cup record on Saturday.

The 32-year-old Johansson certainly fancies his chances. “I think it’s a better match-up for us,” he said after Thursday’s draw. “I got beaten pretty badly by Andy at the US Open, so we tried to avoid that on the first day. Joachim and Jonas have both been playing well, so we had a number of options, and we’ve chosen this one.”

Blake could well find himself in the all-too-familiar position of being the weak link targeted by the opposition, but it doesn’t worry him. “I think of it as just another match,” he said. “There’s always a ton of pressure going into a Davis Cup live match. Each match is critical, but then you only have to get to three. I’ve had some experience playing Davis Cup matches, and I know how to deal with the pressure hopefully.”

Potentially Tricky Doubles For The Bryans

Not that Saturday’s doubles is a foregone conclusion. The Bryans will start favourites against Bjorkman and Aspelin, but with Aspelin having just won the US Open with Julian Knowle (and beating the Bryans en route) and Bjorkman still ranked 11th in doubles, the twins recognise that this could be their toughest match since they lost their only Davis Cup rubber two and a half years ago to Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic.

On paper, it looks clear-cut for the visitors, but will history repeat itself? Back in 1984 John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were the world’s best singles players and McEnroe and Peter Fleming were the top doubles pair, yet McEnroe and Connors both disgraced themselves as Sweden won the final in two days. With McEnroe’s brother now the US captain and the player Connors coaches heading the US team, it’s easy to be aware of that infamous final 23 years ago. So will the history book rewrite itself?

McEnroe Unconcerned By Past

Patrick McEnroe, who admits his brother doesn’t talk much about the 1984 final, thinks not. “We feel this is a new team and a new time,” he said. “We would love to get a win here for the US Davis Cup and for history, but we don’t care much about what happened 10 or 20 years ago. We’re excited about being in the semis again, and we feel we have a good chance.”

McEnroe’s opposite number Mats Wilander was the man who beat John McEnroe on the opening day 23 years ago. He says his team need no extra motivation, but he’s happy to keep the ghost of ’84 alive. “Of course it always helps that we have never lost to the US team in this stadium, but it’s a new tie every time. I think everyone in Sweden who follows Davis Cup knows that Sweden has beaten the US three times here, and that does help.”

Source -- Davis Cup Official Site By BNP Paribas

Posted by Shelia

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