By E.J. Crawford, special to USTA.com
For the U.S. Davis Cup team, it is the culmination of a year’s labor that started in February and has taken them to three countries and three court surfaces in three rounds. Now, this weekend, comes the payoff: a place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, at home and against the defending champion and rival tennis power, Russia.
For Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, the run started on clay in the Czech Republic, where they turned back a Czech team led by Tomas Berdych. The next step was a quick dismissal of 2004 champion Spain on hard courts in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then a semifinal victory over Sweden on indoor carpet. That brings them here, to the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., where the United States is hosting its first Davis Cup Final in 15 years and looking for its first championship in 12.
“I enjoy the journey with these guys because they’re so committed and they’re so easy to be around and they love playing for their country,” U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe says. “But, obviously, the goal is always to try to win. I mean, to watch these guys accomplish what they’ve done, continue to get better and, most importantly, do it
as a team, it would be an incredible accomplishment for all of us.”
The last time the United States hosted a Davis Cup Final was in 1992 in Fort Worth, Texas, where a team of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras defeated Switzerland. A 10-year-old Roddick was at that event, and he says it left a deep impression on him as a tennis player and a fan.
“It changed my life,” Roddick says. “It changed the way I viewed tennis, especially the way I viewed Davis Cup. It just blew my mind, to see the team that we had there.”
Like Courier and McEnroe before him, Roddick has been a Davis Cup stalwart. He has missed just one tie in the last seven years, having played in 13 consecutive ties and 17 of the last 18. Roddick is joined by a veteran squad that has been with him nearly from the beginning. The Bryans are playing in their 13th consecutive tie, and Blake, who was a Davis Cup rookie alongside Roddick in 2001, is playing his eighth tie in a row.
The United States has consistently been among the best tennis nations during that span, advancing to the final in 2004 before losing to Spain on a slow clay court in Seville and reaching the semifinals in 2002 and 2006, falling to eventual champion Russia, 3-2, last year in Moscow.
“We expect a spirited battle as the Russians will look to repeat as Davis Cup champions,” Captain McEnroe says of the Russians, “but our players have been committed to Davis Cup for many years and have a strong drive to bring the Cup back to the U.S.”
The United States boasts a strong team to make that happen. The Bryans, at 12-1, have the second-best winning percentage of any doubles team in U.S. history and are riding a seven-match winning streak in Davis Cup play; Blake is 7-2 in singles in the United States in Davis Cup, including 7-0 on hard courts, the surface of choice for this weekend; and Roddick has been sensational this year, going 5-0 in three ties and closing out the first-round victory at the Czech Republic and the semifinal win at Sweden. (Roddick is 9-0 when he has a chance to close a tie.)
Russia will counter the United States’ might with versatility and depth. Russia’s stable of players includes all-court standouts Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny—all US Open semifinalists or better—a big server in Dmitry Tursunov and a baseline grinder in Igor Andreev. All five entered November ranked in the Top 40, all have singles victories for Russia in the last two years and all have posted tie-clinching singles wins in their careers. They are expertly mixed by Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev, who frequently substitutes his players in the reverse singles to match up with the opposition.
“He has made some excellent moves,” McEnroe says of Tarpischev, who led the Russian women to the Fed Cup title earlier this year. “He has the luxury of having four or
five players who are all very, very good, who can play on different surfaces. We’ve got a different situation. We’ve got two sort of clear-cut top guys. That makes my job more predictable, but at the same time, predictability is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Each team is chasing history this weekend. For the United States, a victory means a record-extending 32nd Davis Cup title and the first since 1995, when Sampras won both singles points and the doubles point to topple Russia on clay in Moscow. Also, the United States can keep alive its singular distinction of being the only nation to capture a Davis Cup championship in each decade of competition, dating back to the inaugural event in 1900.
Russia, meantime, is going for a second straight Davis Cup title and a third in six years. Since 1990, the only country to win back-to-back championships was Sweden in 1997-98.
The one potential difference-maker in this otherwise even matchup is the venue. The United States has played in Portland twice before, winning semifinal ties in 1981 and
1984. In 1981, John McEnroe won three points to lead the U.S. team past Australia and on to the Davis Cup title, and he duplicated the feat in 1984, winning three points
while Jimmy Connors also posted a singles win to lead the United States to a 4-1 victory, again against the Aussies.
Moreover, the United States has enjoyed great success on American soil. In its history, the U.S. Davis Cup team is 107-15 at home, including 10-1 in its last 11 ties. (The United States is 8-2 on hard courts since 2000 and 44-5 on the surface in its Davis Cup history.)
“It’s going to be a very intense final because we’re going to see the world’s best tennis,” German Captain Patrik Kuhnen said after his team lost to Russia, 3-2, in their Davis Cup semifinal. “I think the [U.S.], having the advantage to play at home and choosing the court, have a pretty good shot for the title. But in Davis Cup anything can happen.”
The United States and Russia have faced off three times previously, with the U.S. team winning twice and Russia prevailing last year on clay. But, as Roddick is quick to point out, the United States won’t have to deal with clay or hostile environments this time around. Which means all eyes will be trained on a 32nd Davis Cup championship.
“It’s something that I know we as a team have been dreaming of for a while, having a home final,” Roddick says. “I think we’re all just really excited about the opportunity.”