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Doubles Has U.S. on Bubble

Bryan twins' first Davis Cup loss leaves Americans trailing Croatia, 2-1, and needing a sweep today.

March 06, 2005|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

They were Los Bryans a few months ago in the Davis Cup final at Seville, Spain. On Saturday, they were Lost Bryans at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

The change in status of twins Bob and Mike Bryan went beyond the change of venue and surface. They simply became two more Americans tumbling by the wayside, sharing the fate of nearly everyone facing Ivan Ljubicic on a tennis court these days.

Ljubicic and his young partner Mario Ancic of Croatia defeated the Bryans, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4, ending the Bryans' Davis Cup winning streak. The Bryans, of Camarillo, had not lost in five matches, not even dropping a set before facing the Croatians.

"We've had a lot of disappointing losses," Mike Bryan said. "This ranks pretty high.... It hurts."

Former Laker coach Phil Jackson had a brief chat with the twins afterward in the locker room. That may have helped ease the sting momentarily, but the larger implications of the loss were immediate: Croatia leads this first-round match, 2-1.

History has not been kind to the United States in these circumstances. It has won five times in 37 matches when trailing, 2-1.

Two of the five times came in 2000, and Andre Agassi had a hand in both victories. The most recent was at the Forum in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic. Then, Agassi evened the match at 2-2 and it was decided by Pete Sampras.

There is a chance it may not even get to Agassi. First up is Andy Roddick, who will try to fight off elimination in today's reverse singles, facing Ljubicic. If necessary, Agassi will play Ancic.

"If there are two guys you want to roll out down 2-1, we've got the two guys we want," said U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe. "Andre's been in this position before, and Andy's been in a position where he's had to win a match.

"This is our best team, it's our best one-two punch. We're playing at home. [The Croatians] are going to have to play with a little more pressure on them."

Croatia's captain, Niki Pilic, all but scoffed at that notion.

"What do you think, is not pressure on America?" Pilic said. "I would say they have to win two matches and we only have to win one. Pressure is always pressure in Davis Cup. I mean, only when it's 3-0 or 3-1, there is no pressure anymore."

Pilic said he never considered rolling the dice by resting Ljubicic and Ancic for the reverse singles and sacrificing the doubles point by sending out his squad's two other, untested players.

"Not one second. I don't want to give a present to somebody."

The words "second guess" are probably just as harsh in his language. Though the Bryans had defeated Ancic and Ljubicic twice before, both matches went three sets. Of those six sets, three had gone to a tiebreaker.

Not surprisingly, a tiebreaker was the turning point in Saturday's match before 6,155 spectators. The Bryans had three set points in the second-set tiebreaker, but only one of them came on their serve. It was the second of the three, at 7-6, with Mike Bryan serving, but they couldn't convert when Bob Bryan hit a volley long.

"That in our mind was kind of a match point because we're pretty good front-runners," Mike Bryan said. "When we get a lead, we never look back."

Said Bob Bryan: "Ljubicic took [the return] up the line. I was caught with a body volley. I didn't get it deep enough. They had control. I can't remember how many volleys we hit, but we hit like three or four. Just could never get control of that point. Like Mike said, that could have been the match right there."

The momentum shift was unmistakable. Ljubicic's level picked up, and he started doing everything better. The Croatians broke Mike Bryan in the third game of the third set, and Bob Bryan was broken in the fifth game of the fourth. Ancic was broken in the first set, once, but did not face a break point in the final three sets, and Ljubicic never lost his serve.

Ljubicic is 5-0 against the U.S. in Davis Cup play. In 2003, he had a hand in three points in Croatia's 4-1 victory against the U.S. in the first round at Zagreb.

So, is he starting to feel invincible against Americans?

"Oh yeah, I can lose," Ljubicic said, smiling. "Obviously it's a beautiful feeling. I mean, to win five in a row, it's amazing. But still it's a long way. We need to win three sets, one of us, and it's not easy. Still Roddick and Agassi on the other side of the net, so we need to be very careful."

*

DAVIS CUP

U.S. VS. CROATIA

at Home Depot Center

Croatia leads best-of-five series, 2-1

* Today's singles matches: Andy Roddick (U.S.) vs. Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia), followed by Andre Agassi (U.S.) vs. Mario Ancic (Croatia).

* TV: 2 p.m., ESPN Classic.

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