By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Winston-Salem, N.C. – Two weeks removed from hosting the opening round of March Madness, the Joel Coliseum has undergone a transformation as it prepares to host the biggest and most important U.S. Davis Cup event in state history, the quarterfinals of the 2007 World Group.
“It's setting up to be a really fun weekend,” said U.S. team captain Patrick McEnroe. “I think Winston-Salem makes for a great setting. When we heard that we could come back here and play, all the guys were very excited about coming back here.”
Over 14,500 fans will pack the sold-out Joel Coliseum daily over the Easter holiday weekend to root on the Americans.
The United States and Spain will meet for the eighth time in team history. The U.S. leads the head-to-head, 4-3, but Spain was victorious in the last meeting, the 2004 Final.
“This is going to be probably the second biggest crowd we've ever played in front of," said Mike Bryan, half of the top-ranked doubles team in the world, which will compete on Saturday. "It's always more fun when you're playing in an atmosphere like that."
On Wednesday, U.S. practice partners Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey participated in Tennis in the Strees, a free tennis clinic in downtown Winston-Salem, along with Zina Garrison, current U.S. Fed Cup captain. Over 500 middle schoolers participated in the fun-filled instruction and games.
More community events are planned for the weekend, including an Easter Egg Hunt at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds and Racquet in the Streets in the downtown area.
In 2001, the city of Winston-Salem hosted the World Group Playoff between the U.S. and India. That tie marked the home debut of newly-appointed captain Patrick McEnroe.
It was also the site of the first live rubber for future American superstar Andy Roddick. Roddick won the opening match, defeating Harsh Mankad, and later clinched the victory for his country with a four-set win over Leander Paes.
“We’re glad to be (back) here,” said Roddick.
Current second singles player James Blake also played in his first Davis Cup match that year, winning two matches for the U.S. against India en route to a 4-1 overall victory. In doing so, Roddick and Blake laid the groundwork for the new generation of U.S. Davis Cup team stars.
Of particular meaning for Blake was the voice of the patriotic crowd in the wake of the events of 9/11.
“The atmosphere was amazing being just a few months after 9/11,” reminisced Blake. “To have that kind of patriotism, to have two teams that got along well and fought as hard as we did. But we realized that the essence of it was just sports, and the intention of Davis Cup was to promote good sportsmanship. To have that kind of an atmosphere was just thrilling for me in my first Davis Cup tie. To come back here to Winston-Salem definitely brings back fond memories of that tie.”
Six years later, the desire to host a second Davis Cup tie was so strong, that the United States Tennis Association named Winston-Salem as quarterfinal hosts before the team had played its first round series in the Czech Republic.
Billed as a marquee showdown featuring four top-ten talents including Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 2, and Roddick, ranked No. 3, the Spaniard surprisingly withdrew his name from consideration, citing the risk of further injuring his weather-worn feet in preparation for the clay season.
Nonetheless, the buzz has continued to build around the match-up, what with Spain’s championship pedigree (titles in 2000 & 2004 over the U.S. in Seville) and exceptional depth (seven players in the Top 35 of the Tour rankings).
For the United States, each team member arrived at the team hotel in downtown Winston-Salem (less than two miles from the Joel Coliseum) with varied levels of fitness and momentum.
The central figure in the upcoming quarterfinal tie, Roddick strained his hamstring in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson open, forcing him to retire down 3-5 in the first set to Andy Murray.
After a MRI and a series of medical exams, the team leader didn’t start practicing again until he arrived in Winston-Salem. He declared himself fit to play before the media on Tuesday, but his playing status is still up to his captain, who must decide whether to officially nominate him at Thursday’s draw ceremony.
Meanwhile, Bob and Mike Bryan have few questions to answer on the heels of winning their 36th career doubles title together, a victory in the finals of the Sony Ericsson Open.
Heavy favorites to earn the U.S. a point on Saturday against their likely counterparts, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, Bob Bryan could possibly get thrust into singles action if Roddick hamstring strain worsens following draw nomination.
After dropping a disappointing second round loss in Miami, James Blake returned to his home base of Tampa and trained hard at the Saddlebrook Academy.
"Looking back, I may have stretched myself a little thin with my schedule at the beginning of the year, playing too many matches, having that on the horizon," conceded Blake, now ranked No. 9. "I've gotten to do the two most important things, which is work hard and rest. I'm excited about the hard work I put in."
After the conclusion of the weekend series in the Tar Heel state, all four members of the U.S. team -- Roddick, Blake, and the Bryan brothers -- will travel to Houston, Texas for the start of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships held at the Westside Tennis Club.
The official Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Draw Ceremony will be held on Thursday at 12 p.m. Eastern at the Joel Coliseum.
Versus will air live daily coverage from Winston-Salem at 2 p.m. Eastern, and The Tennis Channel will air a primetime rebroadcast each evening beginning at 8 p.m.
|April 6||2:00 - 6:00 PM ET (Live)||Versus||Singles |
|April 6||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Singles |
|April 7||2:00 - 3:00 PM ET (Live)||Versus||Doubles |
|April 7||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Doubles |
|April 8||2:00 - 5:00 PM ET (Live)||Versus||Singles |
|April 8||8:00 PM ET (Encore)||Tennis Channel||Singles |
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