It was the match of Thiago Alves' life, and he played like it. But as his tie-deciding rubber with Sam Querrey progessed, the disparity between the gritty Brazilian's admirable No. 141 ranking and the prominent American's Top 20 status began to show. More to the point, Alves' extended rallies started to go for naught, and his bold forehands found the net and out of bounds more than inside the lines of the quick hard-court in Jacksonville.
If this match was played in Brazil, or perhaps on clay, Alves—who fought valianty to the end, and found the energy to rev up his supporters just seconds before a must-break game—might have pulled it off. But the relentless pressure Querrey applied with his serve and forehand proved too much for the underdog, as the Californian came through in Florida, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
Now, it must be said: This was hardly a case of Alves tailing off, slowly but surely, after his surprising first-set win. Consider that must-break game I mentioned, in which Alves paid homage to Novak Djokovic with a screaming backhand winner—both in speed of shot and volume of player—to make it 15-15. Playing with nothing to lose, Alves gave Querrey pause in his opportunity to close out the tie, and the American double-faulted on the next point.
Unfazed, Querrey earned a match point, and hit a powerful body serve that Alves did well to return. Alves' forehand that caught the sideline was even better, as Querrey's reply sailed long. But the break point which Alves converted—after another difficult return—was all Querrey's undoing. The heavy favorite completely botched a mid-court overhead, paying homage to a 3.0 player during warm-ups with an indecisive smash into net. The fourth set of the match of Thiago Alves' life was on serve.
Querrey atoned for his tight play with a strong tiebreaker, winning it comfortably despite surrendering two mini-break advtantages. For U.S. fans, it's a good thing he did, because Alves was on the brink of turning this match 180 degrees. His game, rooted in defense and spin, was inspired today, and I'm not certain Querrey could have overcome the sting of blowing a match point with all the momentum against him.
To Querrey's credit, he built a two-sets-to-one lead and had a margin of error. It took him some time to get a feel for Alves' strategy, which saw him pulling the trigger with his forehand after a mutual exchange of rally balls. It wasn't until the third set that Querrey began to look truly confident and comfortable, hitting out with his groundstrokes and pushing Alves well behind the baseline. Leading by a break at 4-3, Querrey was unexpectedly broken, but broke back just as quickly, waiting out a rather impatient Alves to position himself for the victory.
As I said after John Isner's loss to Thomaz Bellucci, Alves did not have the weapons to put Querrey away, and that was apparent even while he pushed this rubber past 6:30 pm EST. But those who stuck with this match, even with the Super Bowl kicking off, were rewarded. You saw Alves give a courageous and entertaining performance, and Querrey survive a gut-check, pressure-packed moment. The victory summons Serbia to the States in the quarterfinals. Querrey, Isner, and the Bryan brothers will need to play much better to defeat Djokovic and Co., but they've earned that opportunity, even if it took a lot longer than expected.