By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
For Andy Roddick, it was playing against other top players in the world at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. For James Blake, it was a week of great practice at home in Connecticut last week.
But no matter what the preparation for any of the players on the U.S. Davis Cup team, let there be no doubt that they are ready to play in the 2007 Davis Cup Final against Russia starting Friday on American soil and a hard court surface ideally suited to their games.
“I went into Shanghai knowing I was short on matches. If you would have told me before that I’d get four matches against the top players and qualify for the semis, that would have been ideal preparation in my mind, on an indoor surface kind of similar, a little bit slower,” Roddick said in a predraw press conference in Portland, Oregon, of playing in the Masters Cup from November 11-18. “But that was key, to go over there and get those kind of matches against those kind of players.”
Blake was in Connecticut last week working with his coach and although he had wanted to qualify for the Masters Cup, he knows being rested will help his Davis Cup performance.
“I feel fit. I had a great week last week with my coach, Brian Barker, in Connecticut. It's one time that fast indoor courts in Connecticut are good preparation for a match, so I'm happy about that,” he said.
“I definitely feel like the little bit of rest I had - I would have liked to have been in Shanghai - but not getting there, I can look at the positives that I got a little bit of a rest and now I feel completely refreshed,” Blake added. “I know my legs are going to feel good for possibly two five set matches. I definitely feel ready to go.”
The Patrick McEnroe-led American team of Roddick, Blake and the world No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan head into Portland this week for the final with the luxury of not just having the home court advantage but also of a team playing its best tennis and knowing its lineup is set.
The Bryans do not yet know which members of the Russian team they will face in doubles – something Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev said he will decide on Thursday – but no matter who they are, the Americans are set to go with a 12-1 Davis Cup record and a seven-match winning streak dating back to 2005.
“You know, we're going to be ready for everyone. There’s four guys (on the Russian team) that can play really good doubles,” Bob Bryan said. “(Marat) Safin is a great doubles player, too. That’s why we’re kind of surprised he’s not here. But (Dmitry) Tursunov/ (Mikhail) Youzhny is probably their best team they can put together out of those four guys. We’ll be ready for them.”
There had been speculation that former world No. 1 Marat Safin might end up playing on the Russian team for the final but Tarpischev said while he had yet to decide which players (Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev are the other team members) to use in which places, Safin will not be amongst them. And while the Russians are the defending Davis Cup champions, he does not necessarily think it gives them an edge.
“This is our strongest team. I think that these guys play better than Marat, and he is not going to be here,” Tarpischev said. “There is no question that the American team is the favorite. But if we have, let's say, between 30 and 35 percent chance of winning, why not try and win it? A similar situation occurred in our first match we played with Chile. We were not the favorites, but we were able to win.”
On the other hand, for McEnroe, it is a luxury now to know exactly which of his players fit into which places.
“In these conditions, with these guys playing well, the surface that we like, I mean, we certainly feel good about our chances,” McEnroe said. “You know, it’s up to them to sort of figure out what they want to do. But I like the position that I have, which is I know exactly who’s going to play. I’ve had situations before where it wasn’t as clear cut as it is now. So I think we’ve been through that, as well. That can work sometimes. But these guys (the Americans) are all veterans after many years of being on this team together. I think having defined roles is good for us. Either way can work.”
And all four U.S. team members have made it clear that winning the Davis Cup title would be one of the greatest moments in their careers. For Roddick, it is something he has been thinking about since he was a child.
“I went to my first Davis Cup tie - it was the '92 final - when I was nine or ten years old. I saw possibly the greatest Davis Cup team ever play and win there,” Roddick said. “And it really struck a chord with me. I've always been excited about Davis Cup. It’s always been a huge priority for me. It’s been on my list of goals to accomplish, (one of) the top couple of things since I started.”