Australia’s Bernard Tomic fought off a challenge from American Jack Sock to level the Davis Cup World Group tie 1-1 after the opening singles matches in Melbourne on Friday.
Tomic looked to be heading for a comfortable victory, rolling through the opening two sets, before being forced to battle hard to win 7-6 (7/2), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours 24 minutes on the grass surface of Kooyong.
The victory, in sweltering temperatures, was crucial for Lleyton Hewitt’s Australians, who lost the opening singles rubber when Sam Groth went down to big-hitting world number 11 John Isner 7-6 (7/2), 6-2, 6-2.
The tie is well poised heading into Saturday’s pivotal doubles rubber with the Americans looking to edge ahead through the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, against a yet-to-be determined Australian combination.
Tomic, ranked 20, sent tremors through the Australian camp when he hit a flat spot during the third set, inviting world number 24 Sock back into the match and a fourth set.
But Tomic rallied and broke the American in the ninth game and served out for a four-set win on the grass of Kooyong, former venue for the Australian Open.
“It was a tough match, I had a surface which was in my favour and I’m happy I won in the end,” a relieved Tomic said shortly after his victory.
Earlier Isner’s serve was too strong for the 77th-ranked Groth, wrapping up the contest in one hour 49 minutes in the opening singles.
Isner served his way out of three break points down in the first set to confidently take the opening set in a tiebreaker 7-2.
The beanpole American smashed 20 aces as Groth’s game deteriorated and posed an early dilemma for new Australian captain Hewitt.
The retired Hewitt is on standby for a possible playing appearance following the match-eve withdrawal of star youngster Nick Krygios with a virus and back trouble.
Isner, 30, took his year’s win-loss record to 5-4 while Groth slumped to 1-7 in his first meeting with the 2.08 metre (6ft 10in) tall American.
“I am extremely satisfied with that win. I played exceptional tennis in the second and third sets,” Isner said.
“The first set could have gone either way, I was 0-40 down at 2-2 and those three points were essentially set points and to save that and climb out and play a great tiebreaker gave me a lot of momentum from that point on.”
Isner added that he was pleased to quiet the capacity Australian crowd with his serving.
“I think I did a great job holding on to my serve and not giving them much to cheer about when I was playing short points on my serve that sort of drowned the crowd out,” he said.