MELBOURNE, Australia — Hard court or grass court, it didn’t seem to matter to Bob and Mike Bryan on Saturday when the twin brothers gave the United States a 2-1 lead over Australia in their World Group Davis Cup first-round tie.
The Bryans, overcoming some mid-match jitters, beat Australia team captain Lleyton Hewitt — who came out of a 41-day retirement to replace Sam Groth — and John Peers 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in doubles to put the Americans in front ahead of Sunday’s reverse singles. Hewitt had replaced an ill Nick Kyrgios in the Australian squad but didn’t play in either of the opening singles.
On Friday, John Isner beat Groth and Australia’s Bernard Tomic defeated Jack Sock to leave the tie level at 1-1. Isner is scheduled to play Tomic on Sunday, followed by Groth vs. Sock, but those reverse singles lineups could change and again see another appearance by Hewitt.
U.S. captain Jim Courier thinks Hewitt will extend his return from retirement.
"The way Lleyton played I would think he would give himself consideration should there be a live fifth match, so we’ll be ready for that eventuality if it comes to pass," Courier said.
Hewitt admitted he may reverse singles, and said it didn’t feel like he’d ever been away. Of course, retirements of less than six weeks can do that to a guy.
"Possibly," Hewitt said when asked about playing Sunday. "I hit a lot of balls this week leading in, and I felt very comfortable with how I was hitting the ball."
The weekend victors will play the winner of Croatia and Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Ahead of Saturday’s match, the court surface became controversial when the International Tennis Federation admitted that the Kooyong matches should have been played on hard courts, not grass.
In 1999, the last time Australia and the U.S. met in the Davis Cup, Australia should have hosted the matches. But a decision was made by the ITF to stage a 100th-anniversary celebration of the Davis Cup at Longwood Cricket Club near Boston, so that match was played there.
The ITF placated Australia by having it played on hard court instead of clay, which the Americans preferred. In exchange, it was agreed that the next time the two countries played in Australia, it would be on hard courts.
But that pact was somehow overlooked when Australia announced a drop-in grass court as the surface at Kooyong, the former Australian Open venue in suburban Melbourne.
In the deciding set Saturday, the Bryans held serve twice and broke the Australians in between to take a 3-0 lead, then 4-1 after only 14 minutes. The hosts saved three match points in the eighth game on Hewitt’s serve, but lefthander Bob Bryan held service to love in the following game to clinch the match.
The American brothers have won 16 Grand Slam doubles titles and have a 23-4 record in Davis Cup. The court surface would not have worried them; 11 of their Grand Slam titles have come on hard court at the U.S. and Australian Opens, and three on grass at Wimbledon.
In an earlier statement, the ITF said the court confusion came from a three-way "oversight" by the ITF, the United States Tennis Association and Tennis Australia.
"While the notes in the ITF database did include the reversal of choice for the next two subsequent ties, it did not specify the surface requirement for the next tie currently being played in Australia," the ITF’s Barbara Travers said in a statement.
"This was an oversight by the ITF, USTA and TA which all acknowledge and will refer to the Davis Cup Committee. While neither nation remembered the condition attached to this tie, now that it has been brought to their attention both Australia and USA, in the spirit of sportsmanship … have agreed to accept the decision of the committee regarding surface for the future tie."
Both Hewitt and Courier played in that 1999 quarterfinal match near Boston which Australia won and went on to clinch the title that year over France in the final.