|Friday, February 10 (2 p.m. ET)||Sunday, February 12 (2 p.m. ET) |
|Andy Roddick vs. Andrei Pavel |
James Blake vs. Victor Hanescu
|Andy Roddick vs. Victor Hanescu |
James Blake vs. Andrei Pavel
|Saturday, February 11 (4 p.m. ET)|| |
|Bob & Mike Bryan vs. Victor Hanescu & Andrei Pavel|| |
By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Playing host to Romania with a berth in the 2006 World Group quarterfinals on the line, a highly motivated U.S. Davis Cup team is eager to erase the bitter memories of a year ago and write a promising new chapter.
Beginning on Friday, an expected crowd of more than 5,000 fans will congregate in La Jolla, Calif., to root on their team, with live television coverage starting at 2 p.m. Eastern on The Tennis Channel and throughout the weekend of play on the Outdoor Life Network.
"We expect a tough match," said Captain Patrick McEnroe, who seemed pleased with the team’s first few days of practice on the outdoor hard courts of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, the site of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first-round sellout. “We're certainly looking to be primed and ready to go.”
Sticking with the same formula of attack-minded, 20-something Americans – Andy Roddick (age 23), James Blake (age 26) and the doubles team of Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (ages 27) – that kept the United States’ place in World Group competition with a hard-fought win in Leuven, Belgium, last September, McEnroe’s main job as team captain is to keep the team focused and motivated throughout the three-day weekend of play.
Which means it should be smooth-sailing for McEnroe. About to embark in his 14th career tie from the team bench with an 8-5 record as captain, McEnroe is lucky to field a group of self-motivated players, a team that wants nothing more than to bring the Davis Cup back to the United States for what would be a record 32nd time.
“Both guys (Roddick and Blake) are going to be ready to play on Friday. I think if we play well, play our games, we like our chances in both matches,” said McEnroe, who was indifferent as to which player will be drawn in the opening match.
Roddick, who led the Americans to victory with a pair of singles wins against Belgium, owns a sparkling 17-6 record in Davis Cup singles matches since joining the team in 2001. Coming off a disappointing result at the Australian Open, the third-ranked player in the world has found a safe haven in La Jolla on the pristine shores of the Pacific Ocean.
“I think it's a pretty intimate court out there,” said Roddick. “It should feel pretty loud. I'm excited. I mean, it's beautiful here. I'm training in paradise next to the beach. We've been welcomed with open arms. It's been a good feeling.”
The vibes that Roddick has experienced during his stay are only compounded by the powerful emotions of representing his country, a call to duty that he has embraced throughout his career.
"It's sports' ultimate honor, whether it be the Olympics or any other international competition – to be asked to represent your country," said Roddick, eighth all-time in singles victories for the U.S. Davis Cup team. "I think it's a pretty big deal, and I think that's why all of us up here are so committed to the Davis Cup cause."
As for Blake, whose ATP tournament title earlier this year at Sydney earned him the nod from McEnroe on the roster over stiff competition from the resurgent Robby Ginepri, the weekend tie against Romania is a rare opportunity to be part of a team in a sport which revolves so much around the merits of individual competition.
"I feel like, especially in our sport, being a relatively isolated sport, you're out there a lot of times competing for somewhat selfish reasons yourself. You're representing your family always, but to represent something greater, being your country, is really an honor," said Blake.
Capping a remarkable 2005 season that culminated in winning the US Open Series’ Pilot Pen Tennis and battling fellow American Andre Agassi in an instant-classic quarterfinal that would define the US Open, Blake fit in seamlessly with Roddick and the Bryan brothers, adeptly filling the role of second singles player against Belgium.
"It's also for me a great deal of fun to be with guys I get along with so well,” said Blake. I've heard of other countries that have very separate teams. Our team is one that enjoys hanging out together and having a good time. So I couldn't imagine anything different. I'm proud to be a part of this team and, as well, friends with these guys."
Finally, with the world’s top-ranked men’s team up his sleeve for the pivotal Saturday doubles rubber, McEnroe knows he can count on the Bryans to step up and play a brash brand of tennis.
“Every Davis Cup match, they themselves say it's like a Grand Slam final to them,” said McEnroe, whose older brother John, a former team captain himself and arguably the greatest American doubles player of all time, will be calling the action from the broadcast booth this weekend.
“They revel in the pressure and atmosphere of it all. They love to say, ‘This is the biggest match of the year for us.’ I love that attitude about them.”
And even more so this year, as the Camarillo, Calif., twins are on the heels of their third career Grand Slam title, a courageous come-from-behind victory at Melbourne Park over Martin Damm and Leander Paes.
“I was really proud of them and happy for them,” said McEnroe. “I've been there the last two years when they lost in the final. Believe me, to lose in a Grand Slam final is a huge disappointment. They lost two in a row down there. I believe it was last year they lost three Slam finals in a row, in Australia, Paris, then at Wimbledon.”
The Bryans have a French Open title on their resume, and last year, won the US Open, bringing them within a Wimbledon championship from capturing all four career Grand Slams.
“To me it's just a testament to what kind of positive guys they are. Even in disappointment, there can be nothing worse than losing three major finals in a row. They take the positive out of it, they keep coming back; they keep putting pressure on themselves to do well in the big events. And they do that with Davis Cup.”
United States vs. Romania TV Schedule
|Feb. 10||2:00 PM ET (Live)||Tennis Channel||Singles A & B |
|Feb. 10||8:00 PM ET (Replay)||Tennis Channel||Singles |
|Feb. 11||4:00 PM ET (Live)||OLN||Doubles |
|Feb. 11||8:00 PM ET (Replay)||Tennis Channel||Doubles |
|Feb. 12||2:00 - 5:00 PM ET (Live)||OLN||Singles C & D |
|Feb. 12||5:00 PM ET (Live)*||Tennis Channel||Singles D |
|Feb. 12||8:00 PM ET (Replay)||Tennis Channel||Singles C & D |
| || || || |
| ||*If tie is not decided|| || |
As for Romania, captained by Florin Segarceanu, McEnroe treated the unheralded visitors with a great deal of respect, especially coming off last year’s upset at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., where his team was toppled by eventual Davis Cup-winning Croatia.
"Romania has a couple of very tough players, good guys that are veterans,” said McEnroe. “Pavel especially has played a lot of Davis Cup. Hanescu has had a very good last year."
And as for the lasting memories against Croatia in which unsung hero Ivan Ljubicic played a starring role against a U.S. team that featured Roddick, Agassi and the Bryans, McEnroe says that every preparation has been made this year to avoid the same fate.
“Look, last year obviously the court ended up being a little bit slower than what we probably wanted in hindsight,” said McEnroe. “Hindsight is always a lot easier than what we thought at the time, which was basically that I did want a slow court outside against the big servers from Croatia.
"It didn't work out particularly for Andre. Andre didn't like the surface. I have to take some responsibility for that, which is why I made an extra trip to La Jolla on my way to Australia to test the court, had them redo it to what I think is the right speed. Hopefully that will work.
"I think it certainly was a wake-up call for all of us that we can lose a match at home. We hadn't lost one since I'd been the captain until that match last year. Obviously, as we all know, it turned out that it wasn't a horrendous loss because Croatia won it, but it hurt. It hurt to lose at home, to be two set points to go up two sets to love in the doubles. If we won the doubles, you're certainly pretty confident you're going to win a match the next day with Roddick and Agassi going.
"I think we're all aware of what can happen. We know Romania has a couple solid players that have a lot of experience both in big matches and in Davis Cup. We're certainly not going to overlook what we're facing here.”
The official Davis Cup by BNP Paribas draw ceremony will be held Thursday (11:30 a.m. Pacific time) at the nearby Miramar military base.
The winner of the United States-Romania first-round tie will play the winner of Chile-Slovak Republic in the World Group Quarterfinals, April 7-9.