By Jason Brown, USTA.com
To no surprise, United States Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe nominated Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob Bryan, and Mike Bryan for the four-man roster that will play Sweden in the 2007 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Semifinal.
"The guys always circle these weeks as big events for them,” said the seven-year captain. “I think they know we have a real good chance to go all the way this year.”
The Americans are a confident and talented band of brothers, having defeated the Czech Republic in the first round, 4-1, followed by a comprehensive 4-1 quarterfinal home victory over Spain in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I think it's their commitment and their energy,” said McEnroe. “They just love being there. They love being with each other. They bring that kind of passion every time.”
With a berth in the 2007 Davis Cup final tantalizingly close, the road test against a veteran Sweden squad will determine if the United States are contenders or pretenders to bring back the Cup for the first time since 1995.
“I think we have a very good attitude about it. I think we've been in there,” said McEnroe. “Going to Russia (2006 Semifinal) was always going to be a tough match. Going to Spain (2004 Final) is about as tough as you can get. We won a big match on the road early in the year against the Czechs, which was big to do that, especially on clay away.”
Their greatest asset, said McEnroe, is their enthusiasm for playing Davis Cup. While superstars like Roger Federer frequently skip important ties, Andy Roddick hasn’t missed a single tie, a remarkable feat considering the wear and tear of the professional tour.
Following the conclusion of the US Open, the Americans will have less than two weeks to go home and recharge their batteries before traveling to the Swedish coastal city of Gothenburg, September 21-23.The last time the U.S. played at the Scandinavium arena, in the 1997 World Group Final, the Swedes swept past a team that included Michael Chang, Peter Sampras, Todd Martin, and Jonathan Stark. Current Swedish team member Jonas Bjorkman accounted for three of five points.
“I think any squad is a better home squad,” said McEnroe. “Davis Cup, it's always a big advantage to play at home. Certainly our guys thrive on the home crowd and the energy of that.
I think Andy has done a great job over the years on away matches. I think that's the next step for James, to be honest. That will be a big part of my job, is to get him to play as well away as he played a couple matches this year at home.
He played great against Spain. I thought it was the best match he played in Davis Cup, beating Robredo in straight sets. Clearly James thrives off that positive energy, just as he's played well here the last few years.
Hopefully we can get him to play that same kind of match on the road. But Andy's proven it. He's beaten (Tomas) Berdych, won some big matches on clay on the road for us. And the Bryans, (it) doesn't matter where they play.”
Who Will Play for Sweden?
A nation with a proud Davis Cup tradition, Sweden might not have the roster depth that they’ve enjoyed in recent years.
Former star player and current Swedish captain, Mats Wilander doesn’t have the luxury that the U.S. possesses, and will have to make several tough roster decisions.
“I think they're a little up in the air,” said McEnroe. “(Robin) Soderling pulled out of the Open. He has a wrist problem, from what I understand. I'm not sure if he's going to be able to play. We probably won't know until the last minute. Thomas Johansson will obviously play. Andy beat up on him pretty good here.
The Swedes have a great history in Davis Cup. They always play well; usually play above their ranking, where they are. We're certainly expecting a tough match. You have Bjorkman, who will certainly play the doubles, maybe even play singles as well.”
If healthy, Soderling would presumably play first or second singles. Another Swedish star, six-foot six-inch Joachim Johansson – who famously upset Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals of the 2004 US Open – hasn’t been able to stay healthy and would be a considered a serious long-shot to warrant a nomination.
Simon Aspelin, who with partner Mark Knowle upset the Bryan brothers at the US Open, could partner with Bjorkman.
Germany-Russia Winner to Meet U.S. or Sweden in Final
On the other half of the Davis Cup semifinal draw, Russia is hosting Germany at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow on an indoor clay surface.
“I think Russia is the favorite, playing at home on clay,” said McEnroe. “They're the clear favorite. We certainly would love to see them win, if we win, assuming we win, to play them at home.”
If Russia were to win, they would travel to the United States to play in the 2007 World Group Final, November 30 through December 2.
But if Germany pulls off an upset, the United States would be at a disadvantage, having to play their third away tie of the year.
Portland, Winston-Salem, Oklahoma City, and San Diego Could Host Final
Which U.S. city will win the right to host a potential Davis Cup final?
“At the moment it seems to be down to four cities right now in the hunt: Portland being one; Winston Salem where we played the last one; Oklahoma City, where we had a tremendous tie; and San Diego. We played a match there obviously last year,” said McEnroe.
“So those at the moment are the four cities. We're hoping within a week or so to maybe narrow it down to two. We all know we've got to win the next tie. My job is to get the guys ready to play Sweden. But because it's such a quick turnaround, we have to look into some possibilities. It is a difficult time of year to find an arena in an appropriate location with hockey, basketball; all those things going on.”Isner, Querrey Rewarded as Practice Partners
Invited to travel with the team to Gothenburg to serve as practice partners, rising young Americans Sam Querrey and John Inser have both played extremely well this summer, particularly Isner, warranting the reward.
Both huge servers, they will be useful in practice sessions, simulating the pace that the Americans can expect to receive from the Swedes on a fast indoor hard court.
While it will be hard for the next generation of Americans to crack the current roster comprised of two Top 10 players and the best doubles team in the world, McEnroe is pleased by the progression of the new talent base.
“I saw Isner play a lot in Washington when he had that breakout tournament,” said McEnroe. “I asked him right then because I could see that not only does he have the game, but he's got a great attitude. I love his enthusiasm. I love his intensity on the court.
“Sam Querrey has had a good summer. Donald Young, I was just thrilled about how he's played; his progression. So between Querrey and Donald and John, just right there I think we have a lot to look forward to. We've got some other kids coming up a year or two behind them. All of a sudden I think we have a lot of positive energy going forward. I think all three of those guys down the road could be playing Davis Cup.”