Isner's Davis Cup loss creates concerns


By now, you'd think John Isner has mastered overtime.

Entering Friday, he had played 17 five-set matches, a total robust enough that it's more or less understood we should sit tight, painfully tight, for a long while.

Isner is blessed with a good blend of cool and moxie in his blood, but he's also been haunted by results that haven't always gone his way. Believe it or not, the 6-foot-10 American's five-set record was a dismal 5-12 -- and now ...

You can make it 5-13. With the Americans already down 1-0 in the opening round of Davis Cup play, Isner suffered a 4-hour, 57-minute 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 13-15 loss to Great Britain's James Ward, a result that essentially sealed the United States' fate in team competition this season.

The Americans will need something of a miracle to climb out of the 0-2 hole they've fallen into during this best-of-five tie, and they'll need to mount an unlikely comeback in front of a raucous British crowd in Glasgow, Scotland. Earlier in the day, Andy Murray beat Donald Young in four rather uneventful sets.

The Bryan brothers will take the court Saturday and should give the U.S. a slither of life, but with one more loss in the next two days, the U.S. will be relegated to the World Group Playoffs, a competition that is essentially the Triple A of Davis Cup.

Wondering what the likelihood is the U.S. will come back? May we refresh your memory and rewind back to the 1934 Inter-zonal final in London, when American Frank Shield knocked off Vivian McGrath 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 to lift the Yanks, who lost their first two matches, to a 3-2 win over the very team their currently trailing, Great Britain. That was the last time the U.S. completed this remarkable feat. Overall, the U.S. is 1-38 when trailing 2-0.

"History is not kind to teams that go down 2-0, but we still have a chance," United States captain Jim Courier told reporters after Isner's loss. "If we win the doubles tomorrow, we will take it one at a time, and hopefully we will get into the fourth match live and John will let it rip.”

The Isner-Ward battle was the longest U.S. Davis Cup match since the introduction of the tiebreaker in 1989, nine minutes longer than the Dmitry Tursunov-Andy Roddick squeaker in the 2006 World Group semifinals, which the Russian eventually won 17-15 in the fifth.

This plight of U.S. men's tennis isn't a new revelation, far from it, but just as we were starting to harvest a few happy vibes -- Young reached the Delray Beach final and Ryan Harrison sliced his way to the Acapulco semis -- reality hit again, and hard.

Look, we're not going to decry the results from one day and make any blanket statements on what the future holds for the U.S, partly because we've watched this unbending narrative for more than a decade and more or less know what's in the offing, at least in terms of major events. And the other part of it is that the global game has bred some longstanding stalwarts who have impeded the destiny of many hankering nations.

Friday's Davis Cup play was more about Isner and sensibility. We've watched for years as he's played these spine-tingling matches with no end in sight. Hard to believe, but we're a half a decade removed from the longest match in history, when Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days at Wimbledon. Isner famously won that match, but since then he's a doleful 2-12 in five-setters.

Isner served 112 aces against the Frenchman that day at the All England Club, but broke him but twice. Twice! Over 11 hours. Against Ward, Isner forged just one break, and equally disconcerting, the American had only five break opportunities, which means he's not giving himself a chance to succeed succinctly. He didn't against Mahut; he didn't against Ward.

In 2012, all of Isner's Grand Slam losses came in five sets, and in Davis Cup play he's now a futile 0-5 in five-setters.

"James played well," Isner said. "He stayed composed and played a good match. I didn't. There were certain things I could have done better and it turned on me. I have lost a lot of tough matches before. It's brutal. I probably won't sleep tonight. It is awful."

The U.S.-Great Britain rivalry is the oldest in Davis Cup history, with a storied competition that dates back to 1900. And despite the Americans' recent ineffectiveness, they do own 32 Davis Cup titles, the most of any nation in history.

But history is the operative word here. Because the present hasn't been overly kind, and the future will be fraught with concern until that breakthrough performance.

It's just too bad Isner hasn't been the one to deliver that performance.