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NEWS

Davis Cup: An Interview With U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe

May 25, 2008 01:28 PM
The U.S. begins defense of their Davis Cup title next weekend against Austria on an indoor red clay court in Vienna. Just eight weeks ago the U.S. Davis Cup Team defeated Russia in the 2007 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final in Portland, to win its record 32nd Davis Cup Title and its first since 1985. This will be the ninth consecutive time that Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan brothers have represented the U.S. in the Davis Cup dating back to the 2005 World Group playoff game in Belgium.

Q. How is your approach different? Does it feel different to be the defending champion coming into Davis Cup this time?

PATRICK McENROE:
Well, it doesn't, our approach isn't different. I think it feels great to know that we've been able to win the Cup. Certainly that's been a huge goal for us as a team for all these years. I know that the hunger to continue to try to win is still there. Obviously, it will be the first time that we're all together as a team, so I think that's exciting. Obviously we've got the same group of guys back, so the commitment from the guys is still there and is still incredibly good. But I think we all feel pretty darn proud that we were able to do it and do it with this team. I think the rest of it moving forward now it will be a different feeling, I think. But I think it will make us even hungrier to try to make a run again.

Q. Was there any thought to giving somebody new, somebody young, maybe, a chance to play in the opening round?

PATRICK McENROE:
You know, I don't think there is anybody really that quite ready to do that yet. This is going to be a tough match. Austria has got a couple of very good players. To go away and play on clay has always been difficult. So to be perfectly honest, I really think we need our best team to have a chance to move forward and win this match. So I don't think there's quite the guys yet that are ready to step into this kind of environment, you know, both physically and mentally. But I think we've certainly got some guys making progress from the younger front, and we'll continue to try to look at them and keep them in the mix as much as we can.

Q. On the Davis Cup, you say that the hunger's still there and all that. Do you worry at all about sort of an emotional let down going from a championship to a first round match. That is the first question. And the second thing is of all the great stories at the Australian Open this year, what do you think were maybe the two biggest surprises or things that make the rest of the season a little more interesting?

PATRICK McENROE:
Well, first of all, I don't really worry about the passion of the guys. I think there are let downs, as I said. I think winning it is something we've always had, and now we've done it. That was a huge motivating factor behind all the guys staying together. But at the same time, I think the other motivating factor is that the guys just love Davis Cup. They love to play for their country. They love the environment. And in that sense you love that obviously as a captain that they continue to want to come back. So I don't feel like we've lost any of that. I feel like in some sense getting that sort of monkey off our back might make us sort of enjoy it even more and play even better.

In the first round match to go away and play a tough team on clay is not easy. As far as the Australian Open goes, I think certainly the biggest door had to be Federer losing and sort of another young guy thrown into the mix in Djokovic to win a major. I think that for the first time for me leaving the Australian Open in the last four or five years, I felt like it's sort of up for grabs who can be number one. I don't think it's a given that Federer's going to be number one. I think in years past it's been this guy's going to be number one for sure. It's just how many majors is he going to win? That's one thing that I left there thinking about. And I thought that Tsonga had an incredible run. It was sort of a breath of fresh air to see someone with that charisma and personality and game. I think the men's game is in great shape. You've got some terrific young players coming up. You have some of the veteran guys that will still be around. Hopefully our top two guys will continue to stay in the mix and stay in the Top 10, and in Roddick and Blake, I think they will.

As far as the women go I thought that even on their side it should be an exciting year. I thought Venus and Serena came down there looking in good shape and looking extremely motivated. Sharapova sort of took her game to another level, which was great to see. And you throw in Justine Henin and the two young Serbs, and I think you've got the makings -- I think you could easily see four different slam winners in the women's game this year. So I think there is a real race for number one there as well.

Q. What makes the Bryan brothers so special, what they did?

PATRICK McENROE:
I guess number one, they win. So that's always helpful. But they bring so much to the table as far as their energy and their enthusiasm and their professionalism. You know what I've always admired about them is that every time they come to play a Davis Cup match, they treat it as if it's the biggest match they've ever played. And I mean that's really true. They sort of put that kind of pressure on themselves that this is the biggest match of the year. We've got to win this one. So I really admire the way they can handle putting that kind of pressure on themselves and actually go out there and play their best tennis. I think they'd be the first to admit that some of the best matches they've ever played have been in Davis Cup.

So I love that about them. I love, as I said, what they bring from an energy standpoint, and the commitment standpoint, the way they prepare for their matches every day during the Davis Cup week is amazing to watch. So not only do I think it rubbed off on Andy and James, but I think for the young players that we bring along as practice guys, it's great to see -- for them to see how professional the Bryans are and how much passion they bring to not just every match, but sort of to preparing for the match. So you can't really replace that kind of passion.

Q. Do they have similar personalities?

PATRICK McENROE:
No, they're pretty different. They're different. Bob is the more sort of probably more the leader of the team, and Mike's a little more of a worrier, and he's always worried about something. They sort of feed off each other and know how to make each other tick and help each other out if one of them's struggling in a certain way. Certainly from my standpoint as a captain, I've learned over the years that one of them might need a little more of my attention at certain times. Even though they look exactly the same, they're definitely different personalities.

Q. What does your win last year in the Davis Cup, what's that say about the state of tennis right now in the states?

PATRICK McENROE:
I think it can only help. I think I feel like tennis overall is on a major upswing. I think this is only going to help. I think we saw the passion from our fans and the different places that we went to like Winston-Salem last year and Portland. You know, people really came out to support it. So I think that's great news. We've just got to try to build on that. It's a small part of what the USTA is trying to do and what tennis fans are trying to do all around the country. We hope that we, just like we did years ago when Andy Roddick was at the Davis Cup final in Texas in '91 or '92, we hope that we have some of those young players that showed up to some of these matches. I think our fans that came to the actual matches were pretty inspired by what they saw.

Q. Are any of the young players are the verge of a breakthrough like what we saw from like Tsonga at the Australian Open?

PATRICK McENROE:
I think we're not quite there, but I think we're getting closer. I think Sam Querrey had a pretty good Australian Open. Got to the third round. I think he made some real progress physically in the off-season, got a lot stronger. I think Donald Young certainly has potential. He's still got a lot of physical work to do, I think, to get to the level of a Tsonga. But game-wise, I think he's got a lot of ability. So I think those two guys have some serious ability. We've got some other young guys coming up that I think could make some inroads like Jesse Levine, a kid from Florida who is coming with us to Austria. So we're looking forward to having him with us and helping our guys out.

Q. As you mentioned before, you start with an early road test on clay. Does the team take a lot of confidence knowing that they went to the Czech Republic last year? Roddick beat Berdych on the indoor clay, once you got there you won that as well?

PATRICK McENROE:
Yeah, I think going back even a couple of years ago when we went to Belgium and won there, which was a very tough match also on indoor clay playing extremely well and Andy having a five-set match there. So that helps. And I think doing that in the last couple of years has been paramount to us. We were fortunate to get the final at home, but we had to win two road matches. So I think we'll go in there with confidence.

But we'll also go in there knowing it's extremely difficult winning on the road. You've got to keep your whits about you and mentally stay in it from the first point to the last. You know the crowd's going to be against you, and we're playing some darn good players. But I do think that having those wins in the last couple of years has certainly
been a huge factor for us.

Q. Your early thoughts on the Austrian roster? You have two lefties Koubek and Melzer, who is easier to deal with?

PATRICK McENROE:
They're both good players. They both have a lot of experience. They've both beaten big players in their careers. Koubek plays well in the Australian Open. Melzer is dangerous. And playing in front of their home crowd they'll be even that much better. So they're quality players. They're guys you've got to beat even if you
play them in a regular tournament. James had a very tough four-set match with Koubek in the US Open. So we're well aware of what they bring to the table. But at the same time our guys, you know, will be ready. So, hopefully, we can somehow sneak through this one and make a run.

Q. Is that part of the thought process there that Jesse Levine was lefty and he could help out with the match-ups?

PATRICK McENROE:
Oh, absolutely. We actually have another lefty named Ryler De Heart (former Illinois All-American) who was a college player for a couple of years coming with us, too. So we tried to get out a couple of lefties that we could. So that is definitely part of our preparation.

Q. Five different winners now in Davis Cup in the last five years. Do you get the sense that teams are now gunning for you as the defending championship? Does that really show you how hard it is to defend?

PATRICK McENROE:
I think it does show you that. I don't think anyone's gunning for us more than they normally are. We're the USA so I think people always gear up to play us. But that's good, that's normal. I think, obviously, you've got countries now that you get two really good players and you can make a run. We've seen that in the last few years. Then you've got the traditional powers in the last 15 years like France and Spain and Russia and the U.S. still fielding good teams. Now you've got teams like an Austria has got a couple of dangerous players. Croatia that did for a couple of years. Serbia now would be a tough team to play. So that is sort of the beauty of Davis Cup, and the fact that tennis is growing in so many places around the world. Great players are coming from sort of non-traditional tennis powers.

Q. What should we take out of the Americans performance at the Australian Open? Blake, Roddick, Bryans, definitely showed some signs that their game had carried over from the final.

PATRICK McENROE:
I think certainly from Andy's standpoint was disappointing. I think he was playing well and he ran into a guy that got extremely hot in Kohlschreiber and lost a tough match. But Andy usually moves on pretty quickly and has a long year ahead of him. I think he's done a lot of hard work in the off-season. So I expect him to be ready to go over there.

James had an excellent tournament, I thought, getting to the quarters and playing Federer very tough. And coming back and winning a match five sets and two sets to love down was huge for him mentally. So I think James has had signature wins for him in the last few months. Starting with last year's U.S. Open, and then the Davis Cup final, winning that match against Youzhny and coming from way down against Grosjean, so I think that's a good sign for James. And I fully expect he'll play in the Top 10 for most of this year.

For the Bryans, they're always disappointed to not play for a title and a slam. They've set the bar pretty high for themselves. They've lost a tough match, very tough match, in fact the one they lost down under. The last thing I'm ever worried about are the Bryan brothers.

Q. Can you describe as captain it's a difficult proposition to be coach for a week for these players. Describe some of these things you might be relating to them playing on a red clay court against difficult opponents on the road. What sort of different approach do you take in a match like this?

PATRICK McENROE:
I think it's sort of important for them to keep their whits about them. They need to stay solid. It's something that Andy really improved over the years. I think it's a sign that James is starting to do the same thing. And James, quite honestly, has a little trouble doing that in some of the away matches. It gets too up-and-down. And so I think the matches that James has won, as I mentioned, over the last few months I thought were really signature matches for him.

From a mental standpoint, I think it will really serve him well in that situation. He had to go in knowing that there are going to be tricky spots. That you're not going to be able to sort of play an aggressive game point in and point out and you just have to weather the storm in a five-set match on clay. I think it's more of that from a mental standpoint.
I still want our guys to play their game. Obviously you try to play with a little more margin, a little more spin, if you can on the clay. I think for our guys they know how to do that, it's just a question of not letting the conditions effect them in a negative way mentally.

Q. Looking across the net at Koubek and Melzer, two very volatile characters. For you, how much do you keep your eye on these guys and see if they're ready to go down? Do you sort of understand what it takes to get these guys off their game?

PATRICK McENROE:
Well, I think for them, obviously they're going to handle their emotions better because they're playing at home and that's where the home crowd can really help you. I think for our guys it's really taking care of their own mentality and taking care of themselves. Not letting whatever they're doing on the other side effect them. These guys, as you said, are going to be pretty volatile. They're capable of playing great for a couple of stretches and they're capable of going south at some point. So I think if we're mentally sounder, that's going to give us a much better chance to win.

Q. Who do you think is going to be the doubles side from Austria?

PATRICK McENROE:
Well, I've heard that Knowle has had some problems, I believe, with his elbow. There were some questions as to how healthy he was. Assuming he's healthy I would say it's going to be Knowle and Melzer in the doubles. That would be my assumption. But we're never really that worried about who is going to step out. The Bryans usually prepare for whatever options can be there during the week as far as do we play against two lefties, play against a lefty-righty? Are they going to stay back?

So as soon as they found out who was playing, for instance, in the final against Russia, you know, their next practice they went out and made sure they practiced against guys that were staying back. So they sort of do a really good job of preparing for whoever the opposition throws out at them.

Q. Can you talk about it's only eight weeks since you guys won the title. I know you've been vocal in the past about the format for Davis Cup. Now you're, as champions, going to have to start defending soon. Can you talk about what format you think would be stronger for the competition?

PATRICK McENROE:
You know, I'd rather not talk about that at this moment. I'd rather focus on the match, and this is what the match is coming up. There are plenty of countries that have won it. We're glad we won it, okay. We have to deal with the quick turn around. I'd rather not talk about that at this particular moment.

Q. You've been able to get the guys to come out each and every match, which previous captains have had a problem with of late. On the women's side they seem to be having the same problem. How difficult do you think it is for our country that Serena or Venus aren't supporting the Fed Cup?

PATRICK McENROE:
I can only speak for myself and our team, which is that I've been extremely lucky. We've got a group of guys that love to play for their country, that love supporting each other and that have answered the call every single time I've asked them. So that's pretty amazing considering the world we live in. I certainly understand the players that do skip matches here and there. I feel for Zina and now for Mary Joe what they have to deal with. As I said, I've been very lucky that these guys continue to play.

I'd love to take the credit, but to be quite honest, the credit goes to them because they really do enjoy it. They really do enjoy the weeks together, and I think it helps that they all get along so well with each other. They're great friends away from Davis Cup. When I first became captain the first thing I said was I want to try to get players that real want to play. Really want to be there. I've been lucky those guys have been the guys that are our best players. But it is tricky with the schedule and all the other things going on. Not having Serena and Venus certainly makes it difficult. They can pick and choose when they want to play. That makes it tough on the captain.

Q. You mentioned the Federer loss; how much more do you think this loss to Djokovic might play in his mind and also maybe the other players mind of his vulnerability as opposed to losing the few times he's lost to Nadal at the French where clay is not his surface? But this is like his money.

PATRICK McENROE:
I think it's probably a little of both. Clearly he wasn't a hundred percent, but then again that's when the best players start to come down. Maybe he won't be -- maybe he will never dominate the way he did in the last couple of years. We just don't know that. That's why we're interested and we're going to watch. But I still think they'll come back strong. I expect them to be ready to play in Indian Wells and Miami. He wants to keep the number one ranking, and he has a lot of pride. I think for Djokovic, the guy's proved that he's the second best hard court player in the world in the last year. He's won a major. He can play on any surface. So as I said earlier, I think for the first time leaving Australia, I feel like it's not clear cut that Federer's going to be number one. I think Djokovic proved that if you go out there and you have an all-court game and you're incredible tough and you can move very well, you can stay with Roger. And Djokovic has been able to do that countless times now. He's only beaten him twice. And even in the matches he's lost to him, including in the Open final, he was right there with him. Obviously he's a special player. For some of the other guys out there, I think this is that's got to give them a little positive thought that they might be able to take him down.

Q. You sort of answered it already. I was going to ask about Jesse Levine. I guess because he's a lefty, that's the big reason he's going?

PATRICK McENROE:
That is a big reason. Another reason is that he's shown a lot of promise. He's done real well in the last six to nine months. He's improved his ranking a lot from everything I've heard and seen, he's a great kid and incredibly hard worker. I think the guys, meaning the guys on our team, usually have a pretty good read on how
good or how hard the young guys work. And I think they respect the young guys that come along and really work hard. When they see that they really try to reach out and help them. So I think it will be a great experience for Jesse. I think he'll get a lot of positives and I think he'll help our guys a lot.

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