RELATED: Andy Roddick Player Profile
By Matthew Cronin, special to USTA.com
Back in 2001, when US captain Patrick McEnroe realized that one time warrior Andre Agassi might never play again, he turned his eyes toward the younger generation and threw 18-year-old rookie Andy Roddick into a dead rubber match against Switzerland.
Roddick was so charged up that he treated his match against George Bastl like a Grand Slam final. McEnroe remembers a young skinny guy who couldn't sit down and was just itching to be given the ball.
Roddick pushed through to a 6-3, 6-4 victory and since that time, he's been McEnroe's go-to guy. The man with the 150-mph heater is at least partly responsible for making sure during the century that the US is a title threat year in and year out.
Neither McEnroe or Roddick or his now teammates, James Blake and the Bryan Brothers, have brought the cup back home again, but they've given themselves a chance nearly every season to contend for the title and this season, for the first time in McEnroe's tenure, the US gets to play a much desired home final against Russia in Portland, Nov. 30 - Dec. 2.
McEnroe cant wait to send Roddick on court at the Memorial Coliseum against the Russians, as he knows his top player is 19-2 at home and this year and has never lost a Davis Cup match indoors.
This year, the fast-talking, fast-serving Texan is undefeated in Davis Cup singles.
He spanked Czechs Ivo Minar and Tomas Berdych in Ostrava; his two biggest clay court wins in the competition. In the quarterfinals against Spain, Roddick survived the streaky Fernando Verdasco, and in the semifinals against Sweden in possibly his most impressive away tie ever, Roddick downed the powerful Joachim Johansson on day one and then clinched the victory with a win over veteran Jonas Bjorkman in Gothenburg.
He improved his record to 9-0 when given the opportunity to clinch the tie for the U.S., a remarkably clutch achievement. Roddick has repeatedly said this year that winning Davis Cup is his top priority and he spent much of the fall preparing for battle.
"He's been our leader for so many years," McEnroe said. "I think he can taste it. He knows that we've got one match at home. His record at home particularly speaks for itself. He's won some huge matches on the road for us this year, which has been a testament to him improving, his improvement in the mental state in those road matches.
Certainly as the captain, it's a pleasure to hear him say that Davis Cup is his number one priority. I believe it is for the rest of the year. From a captain's perspective, you certainly couldn't ask for anything more than a player who puts that much emphasis, that much emotion and effort into every Davis Cup match he plays."
Roddick by no means owns a perfect Davis Cup record (he's 25-9 overall in singles), but even in defeat on surfaces that don't play to his strength, he's been a warrior.
He played Roland Garros champions Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya tough on spongy red dirt in frigid conditions in Seville, Spain, during the 2004 final. In last year's semifinal loss to Russia in Moscow on clay, Roddick extended Dmitry Tursunov to a record 4 hours and 48 minutes on the final day in a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 17-15 loss.
"Roddick has missed one Davis Cup match since I've been the captain, and I've been the captain for seven years," McEnroe said.
"If you can name another player in the world that's got that kind of record and commitment to Davis Cup, please let me know who that is because I can't think of any off the top of my head. He's been unbelievable. He's played in the toughest of circumstances, Andy has, and performed with everything he has every time. Again, that doesn't always guarantee a win or a loss, but you know that both mentally and physically he's always going to be there."
Like the Bryans did when they attended their first tie as kids against Mexico in 1990, Roddick got hooked on the competition when he went to the last Davis Cup final played on US soil - the "Dream Team's" heady victory over Switzerland in Forth Worth, Texas in 1992.
"I think I was nine years old and I went with my tennis club to that tie," Roddick said. "It changed my life and the way I viewed tennis, especially the way I viewed Davis Cup. It was the first time I'd kind of seen Davis Cup. It just kind of blew my mind, to see the team that we had there. It was Agassi, Courier, Sampras and [John] McEnroe. To be able to see that in that type of setting as a little kid, it definitely makes a bit of an impression, to understate it. I wasn't one of these kids raised to be a tennis player. But just seeing something like that is pretty powerful. Being with the other fans in an arena like that, seeing your heroes play, hearing the anthem for the first time, it really was the first time I'd been at a sporting event which was just, completely about patriotism and that whole thing. I think I fell in love with it then."
While defending champ Russia sports a deep team, Roddick has never lost to their top player, US Open semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko, in six matches. He has taken defeats to Russian No. 2 Mikhail Youzhny and to Tursunov, but has won his last three matches against Youzhny, is 2-1 against California resident Tursunov. However, Roddick is 1-2 against Russia's fourth player, Igor Andreev.
Nonetheless, McEnroe is figuring that with on a fast indoor court and a raucous sold out crowd at home, that Roddick will punch through whomever Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev throws at him. Roddick sounds pretty optimistic, too.
"I feel confident," he said. "It was nice to get a win over Davydenko [in Shanghai]. I've been able to beat Youzhny the last couple times we've played. We have the best doubles team in the world in our corner. We're feeling confident, but getting that confidence to translate to the court and getting a win is a tall task, especially we lost to them last year. But I like our team."