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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 6, 2020

 
Reilly Opelka Taylor Fritz

Captain Mardy Fish is relying on "two Goats and three punks" to power the host U.S. past Uzbekistan into a Davis Cup finals return.

Photo credit: Daniel Shirey/USTA

The Star Spangled Banner typically precedes U.S. Davis Cup matches.

Captain Mardy Fish is a country music fan cranking up punk rock intensity in a new American anthem.

More: Bryan Brothers Passing Torch in Davis Cup Farewell

The United States launches its quest to return to the Davis Cup Finals hosting Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup Qualifier at the Neal Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii today.

Surveying the eclectic mix of 41-year-old veterans Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan, who are contesting their farewell Davis Cup match, playing alongside rising stars Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul in practice this week, prompted Fish to summarizes his squad as “two GOATS and three punks.”

An American team built on explosiveness and experience aims to return to the Davis Cup Finals in pursuit of its record-extending 33rd Davis Cup championship.

The 22-year-old Opelka plays Uzbekistan No. 1 Denis Istomin I today’s opener followed by 22-year-old Fritz facing Sanjar Fayziev for the first time in the second singles of this best-of-five-match qualifier.

The Bryan brothers will play their final Davis Cup match against Istomin and Fayziev in Saturday’s opening match followed by Fritz vs. Istomin with the Opelka vs. Fayziev match closing the qualifier. Saturday’s schedule could be amended should either team clinch victory in the third of fourth match.

Mardy Fish
Photo credit: Daniel Shirey/USTA

“It's great to have these two generations here to sort of mix together,” Fish told the media. “The Bryans have seen it all. They've been around forever. We're trying to build something really special with the youngsters, too.

“Glad that Tommy can get in the mix here and sort of feel the excitement of the team and be a part of it. Have Reilly and Taylor playing singles because they were pretty awesome in Madrid.”

Last November, Fritz defeated US Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini and Sam Querrey and Jack Sock partnered to top Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini to lift the USA to a 2-1 win over Italy in a Davis Cup Finals group tie that ended at 4:04 a.m. in Madrid. Canada topped the Americans, 2-1, ending the U.S. run.

Today, Opelka knows the challenge he’s in for against Istomin. Opelka split two tie break sets with Istomin and was up 1-0 in the third set when the veteran retired in their New York Open match last year. Opelka went on to win his first ATP title at the New York Open.

The 6’11” Opelka rides a five-match winning streak into Davis Cup and figures to be empowered after scoring a trio of three-set wins en route to the Delray Beach Open title last month.

Despite his current ranking of No. 156, Istomin can rise to the occasion as he did at the 2017 Australian Open shocking Novak Djokovic in a five-set marathon.

“He's been on tour for about 10 plus years,” Opelka said of Istomin. “He's got a lot of experience. Him and I played twice. I beat him once, he beat me once. Both really close matches.

“I mean, obviously it's going to be a battle. I'm expecting it to be a tough match. Just like our last two. If I don't come ready to play, play really good tennis, it's not going to be fun for me. I'm going to go in and go to work and expect a battle.”

A year ago, Davis Cup shortened matches from the traditional best-of-five sets to best-of-three-sets. The 33-year-old Istomin favors the shorter format when facing younger players.

“Now it's three-set matches,” Istomin said. “It's a little help let's say for the more experienced players. But also helps for me because I'm not young any more. I don't spend so much energy for the five-set matches.

“I mean, yeah, it's not first time for me. I just go and show my game and try to win.”




World No. 24 Fritz is playing the most dynamic tennis of his career and showed it knocking off American No. 1 John Isner to reach the Acapulco final where he fell to world No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

"Definitely I feel like I'm playing my best tennis," Fritz said. "It's really good. All of us, everyone has had really good results recently. We all are pretty confident coming in. I think the main thing is just to stay focused and take care of the things that we can take care of so when we get on the court we're as prepared as possible to play our best tennis and to win.”

Tomorrow's doubles match will be the Bryan brothers first Davis Cup appearance since they bowed to Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig in the 2016 Davis Cup quarterfinals.

Recharged by their run to their 119th ATP title in Delray Beach two weeks ago, the Bryans are determined to go out with a bang.

"This is our swan song, our last hurrah in Davis Cup," Mike Bryan said. "We played our last one before this a few years ago, lost in Portland. We wanted to kind of redeem ourselves, play for captain Fish. "It's not a bad place to come to, Oahu. When we saw that, we wanted to put our names in the hat.

"Excited be back, part of a young team, the next generation. I think they're half our age, Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul. Yeah, good to be back."




This is the second meeting between the two nations with the Americans scoring a 3-1 victory in the 2015 World Group Playoffs. 

This weekend’s matches can be seen live on CBSSports.com and on the CBS Sports App, with Day 1 action starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time on March 6th and Day 2 getting started at 6 p.m. Eastern time on March 7th.

Tennis Express

Fans that miss the action live can also watch Day 1 action on CBS Sports Network on Saturday, March 7th, at 1 a.m. Eastern time or Sunday, March 8th, at 7 a.m., and Day 2 action on Thursday, March 12th at 9 p.m.

 

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