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Captain Patrick McEnroe's Blog

May 25, 2008 01:28 PM

RELATED: First-Round Order of Play

As the U.S. Davis Cup team begins its title defense, Captain Patrick McEnroe will share his commentary exclusively with USTA.com. Before, during and after the team's first-round match against Austria in Vienna, Feb. 8-10, read McEnroe's analysis of team practice and preparation, the series outlook and the challenges ahead.

Got a question for the captain? We want to hear from you!

Blog Entry #6 – Sunday, February 10

I’ve been fortunate to have the same group of guys playing for awhile now, but it’s also important to recognize – especially when you’re far away from home in a place like Vienna – the entire Davis Cup staff that helps make our lives so much easier.

We’ve had a great team for a couple of years now, starting with our doctor and our trainers and stringer and masseuse. Anne Marie Martin, Jeff Ryan, Tim Curry and all of the full-time staff at the USTA make these weeks pleasant for us and the guys. And I think that really makes a big difference.

The guys know that when they come to a Davis Cup week, they’re going to be really well taken care of. All they have to worry about is going out on the court and performing well. That’s something that’s always been important to me as the captain – that these are weeks that the team really enjoys. Part of it is so that they keep coming back. You want them to be as comfortable as possible. So our team has been fantastic, and the USTA supports us well.

Speaking of the extended Davis Cup “family,” some of you fans out there might have noticed that my father, John McEnroe Sr., didn’t make the trip to Vienna. After a long 2007 season that included four events, including two in Europe, he needed a break. But knowing him, I’m sure he was watching everything on TV at home. I promise you that we’ll get him back in the fold soon.

After spending several weeks on the road, the Australian Open followed by Davis Cup, it’s going to be so nice to be home in New York. I don’t have to take any trips again until the next Davis Cup tie, so I have about two solid months.

I know that I’m needed at home. I’ll be doing plenty of baby duty, changing diapers and spending lots of time with my wife.

Jogging my memory, I remember our last Davis Cup tie in 2002 against France (our 2008 quarterfinal opponent in Winston-Salem, N.C.) very well. It was held at Roland Garros before a fantastic crowd. James and Andy were there and played pretty well. We won the doubles with James and Todd Martin. We were in all of those matches. Although we lost, it was a great experience.

France has some different players now, some talented and charismatic young players, which I think will make it a great tie. Hopefully we can have as packed a house for us as they did for them when we played them in the semis.

Andy and James struggled early in their Davis Cup careers, especially in the away matches, mainly because of learning to control their emotions – the emotions of the up-and-down nature of Davis Cup, playing five sets and the other team making it as tough an environment as they can. Partly, that’s the crowd and a lot because of the surface.

Now, I think they just handle everything better – they’re more stable. They understand that there are going to be some tough patches and matches, and you sort of have to stay the course.

But I was really impressed by the way they performed here in Vienna, both physically and mentally. They were able to handle everything. The first day of this event was one of my great days as captain.

To win the matches the way that they did showed a lot about our team and a lot about them as individuals. They’ve come so far from being the young guys who would get all emotional that it would cost them some matches. The experience they’ve had over the years and us knowing each other well and because we’ve been through this a bunch of times together really helped us.

For Winston-Salem, we’re hoping that we can replicate the tie that we hosted there last April against Spain. That’s the plan. We’ll figure out who our practice partners are going to be – maybe a Mardy Fish or Robby Ginepri would be there as a fifth guy. We’ll certainly have the same foursome, knocking on wood that everyone stays healthy. It’s a tough schedule over the next couple of months, so hopefully they can perform well at the Masters events and come into Winston-Salem healthy and with some confidence.

I'm looking forward to talking with everyone again in April! Go USA!

Blog Entry #5 – Saturday, February 9

It’s Saturday afternoon and we’ve already clinched the series – I'm pleasantly surprised. I thought coming over to the stadium today that it was going to be very difficult, because on Friday we had two very tough singles matches. Our guys were able to sneak both of them out, and we had the Bryans coming out.

But no matter what the score is, you always feel very confident that they're going to play great tennis and normally get the win. I think for the Austrian team, to be down 2-0 and have to face the Bryans is a pretty daunting task. We got a good start. The Bryans really did jump out early and sort of keep that lead throughout the whole match.

Melzer was probably a little bit tired from his match yesterday. We tried to capitalize on that as quickly as we could. The Bryans are awfully good at jumping on an opponent's weakness, whatever that may be. We were able to do that and not let the crowd get into the match in any way. As the boys said in their press conference after the match, they save their best tennis for Davis Cup, and they kept their intensity up throughout the whole match.

So much is made of Americans perceived dislike for clay, but the Bryans actually love playing on it. They actually joke to me about playing some home matches on clay – they would like that. But they understand that that doesn't work well for our other guys at home. They really adapt well to the surface, and the way they play they can put a lot of pressure on their opponents because they just make so many returns.

As for tomorrow’s dead rubbers, I’m not positive yet who I’m going to play. I'm going to talk to my guys and see how everybody is feeling and hopefully get a few more wins tomorrow. Andy and James are both nursing small injuries, so we’ll what happens.

This win feels great, but we all realize that there's a lot of work left to be done. I think you never want to overly celebrate on your opponent's home court, and I think our guys are always respectful of that.

I think winning those two matches yesterday gave us a lot of momentum going into today. When you win three straight sets pretty easily, the writing was pretty much on the wall. We won it this past year and we've taken our first step this year. So like last year in the Czech Republic we won a tough match away on clay, and we've done it again this year. Hopefully we can keep that momentum going.

Moving forward as the guys work toward the spring hard court season, I think the key is obviously for Andy and James to play well in the big tournaments, and hopefully to stay healthy and take care of themselves, which they do, and gear up for Winston Salem after Miami in early April.

Thinking about the prospect of playing at Winston-Salem again, we're hoping to have the same kind of crowd. When we played Spain last year, it was one of the best crowds we've ever had in the U.S. We hope to fill the Joel Coliseum again and make it nice and loud and noisy for the French.

Blog Entry #4 – Friday, February 8

Today was a very satisfying day. To win both matches was a great performance by our guys. Mentally, it was a strong test for us and I thought that both guys passed. Physically, Andy and James were able to handle a couple of tough, long matches. Especially Andy – he should have closed out the match in four sets, but he battled back. Overall, it was a heck of an effort from both guys.

I never try to predict what’s going to happen in a Davis Cup tie. I always say that you have to take one point at a time and one match at a time, and try to get our guys to play well.

James got down and was in real trouble. He was almost down two sets to love. But he kept going for his shots and kept a great attitude mentally and I think that was a key for him. Once he got on a roll, he was able to dominate the last couple of sets.

A lot was made of the clay court today, but for me, it was more about the condition of the clay. We didn’t like the holes out there; someone could have gotten hurt. We understand that when we leave the U.S.A., other teams are going to pick clay, but honestly, there were bad bounces for both sides. The grounds crew did the best they could to make sure that it didn’t get too bad, which made it playable.

We hope to take care of business tomorrow. Obviously, having the Bryan brothers coming out is a good position for us to be in, but we’re expecting a tough doubles match. We certainly wouldn’t mind it if Jurgen Melzer, who played a long five-set match with Roddick today, was a little bit tired on Saturday. But he played great today, has excellent experience as a doubles player and has a really great partner. I’m sure they’ll play well, so the boys will have to bring out their best stuff.

It’s great to see the guys playing so well on clay once again. I’m not sure that host nations will stop choosing clay when they play us, but I think we’ve made some strides. The way that we’ve been able to handle the tough conditions and the crowd – everything that comes with playing an away match – is impressive. All of our guys have gained in maturity and I think that’s been a big key for us.

Talking about Andy for a moment, I thought today was one of his biggest wins in Davis Cup, which says a lot. I was really proud of his effort, because physically, it was an incredibly demanding match. To lose the fourth set in a tie-break and then come back the way he did after Melzer was playing lights-out, was impressive. He weathered the storm and started to play more aggressively toward the end of the match, which helped him a lot.

I’m headed back to the hotel now, and with any luck, the Bryans are already fast asleep. They’re going to be so excited for tomorrow, and with the chance to close it out, even more so. Without a doubt, they’ll be ready to go.

Blog Entry #3 – Thursday, February 7

I’m not sure how you like to start your morning, but during my time here in Vienna, it’s all about the coffee. If you’re ever in Vienna, and you’re a java lover, you need to get yourself a cup of the traditional Viennese coffee. I’ve been getting an espresso with sweet whipped cream on top. You get a nice little glass of water with it and a perfect little stirring spoon.

I discovered a coffee shop just down the street from our team hotel a couple of days ago. I asked the concierge at the hotel where I could get a real traditional cup of coffee. They gave me a couple of options, but advised to me to go to the one where all of the locals go. They give you freshly-squeezed orange juice and a perfect little biscuit. What else can I say except that if you’re ever in Vienna, I highly recommend trying it. Besides, there’s plenty of Starbucks at home – it’s like having Pizza Hut when you’re in Rome.

Last night, there was a big soccer match in Vienna between Austria and Germany. It took place at the Ernst Happel Stadium which was also where the official Draw Ceremony was held today.

I can still remember the 1990 Davis Cup tie. The United States and Austria played an epic semifinal that was carried over to Monday because of rain. Michael Chang was two sets to one down and came back to give the Americans the victory.

The Austrians have been saying all week that this weekend’s tie will be the biggest Davis Cup event here since then. That’s the thing about being the U-S-A – everyone’s gunning for you. Now that we won the Davis Cup, it’s even more so. But we’re used to that.

Speaking of the draw, there weren’t many surprises, but it was nice to have Andy play first on Friday instead of sitting around all day. People might think that maybe Austria has a better chance to beat James on the first day, but I don’t really get caught up in that whole game. When you’re the captain and in every point, every match, you sort of look at each match as its own entity.

The guys were saying how funny it was that Andy keeps getting drawn as the first match – they thought it was something like six ties in a row, but remembering back, James played the first match last year in Winston-Salem, defeating Tommy Robredo of Spain. The way that I look at it, Andy really likes to play right away, and James sort of prefers to play later in the day, so it works out just fine for us.

Knowing that we were going to face two lefties in singles, I invited Jesse Levine as our practice partner. He’s been great all week, especially since our other practice partner has been a bit sick. Jesse’s been getting his money’s worth.

The short of it is that we’re well-prepared for this weekend. It’s always tough playing away on clay, but we’ve been able to win some of these matches in the past.

Winning the Cup was such a shared experience. While there’s always pressure to win when you go out and play for your country, I think it could help us in the long run because we can go out and know that we’ve done it before. I think this year the guys will be able to play with more fun – enjoy each match a little bit more. A lot has to break right and you need your best guys, but so far, we’ve enjoyed the ride. The biggest step was to get all of our guys back, which we’ve accomplished.

The night before a Davis Cup tie begins, I make sure that the guys get to bed early. But honestly, they’re such pros that they sort of know the routine of what they need to do. We try to get practice done relatively early the day before, so they can have the rest of the day to relax and gear up their mental energy. Andy often gets pretty wound up the night before, so we just try to keep him calm, because he gets so excited and nervous about playing. But it’s a good sort of nervous – definitely positive energy that the guys care. Overall, I just let the guys who are playing the next day do what they’re comfortable with doing to prepare themselves.

Blog Entry #2 – Wednesday, February 6

Today, the team practiced from 9 a.m. to noon at the stadium (locally known as the Ferry Dusika Hallenstadion). Following practice, we had our first press conference of the week.

I haven’t been to Vienna in about 10 years. It’s a beautiful city with great culture. I actually had a coach when I was a player on tour who lived here. He was an Austrian guy, Gunter Bresnik, so I actually spent a bit of time here. Gunter used to be the Austrian Davis Cup captain. In fact, he was the captain the last time that we played Austria in 2004. He coached me for about a year in the early 90s.

Just a few short months removed from the 2007 Davis Cup Final, we’re still savoring the victory. As I’ve said in the past, it was an awesome weekend, an awesome year, and to be able to do it with the same group of guys that have been together for so long is great. So we’re still savoring it, but we’re really looking forward to trying to do it again.

Meanwhile, you might have heard that the USTA has already selected Winston-Salem, N.C., as the potential site for the Davis Cup quarterfinal in April (11-13). We played a home tie there last year at the Joel Coliseum, defeating Spain, and were treated so nicely by the organizers of the event.

If we’re fortunate to get past Austria – which won’t be easy – we’d host France if they win their first-round match-up against Romania. We’re obviously not trying to look too far down the road, but I think that the French have a very versatile team.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was obviously a great story at the Australian Open, reaching the final. He provided a real breath of fresh air to the sport, and hopefully, he’ll continue to stay healthy and keep doing well. That would be a big match for us to play them at home – it would be a great tie.

Really, if you think about it, there are a lot of positives going for tennis at the moment. There’s going to be a Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer exhibition match at Madison Square Garden in New York City in March, which I’ve heard is almost sold out. The Australian Open was tremendous on the heels of the United States winning the Davis Cup, so there’s a lot of good buzz. So that’s why I’d love to see us get another home match as the champion – that’s definitely part of our inspiration to try to get a win here. Because to go to Winston-Salem, in front of another huge crowd, would be great for the game.

But again, by no means have we put that in pen. We realize how tough this match is going to be. I can tell you that the guys aren’t looking ahead to that just yet.

Blog Entry #1 - Tuesday, February 5

Before I share my thoughts on our Davis Cup first-round match-up with Austria in Vienna, I’d first like to congratulate Zina Garrison and the U.S. Fed Cup team on their win over Germany in La Jolla. I was really happy to see American Ashley Harkleroad get a couple of big wins – that was a really nice story.

Also, I was really happy for new U.S. coach and fellow ESPN broadcaster Mary Joe Fernandez, who made her debut with the team. It’s always nice to open with a win. It was nice to see how Lindsay Davenport rebounded after a tough first match. Overall, it’s great that the United States has made it into the Fed Cup final four, with a tough semifinal match on the road against Russia next.

But, hey, we’re expecting a tough match here in Vienna. Every Davis Cup match is a tough match, including the doubles, which could be tricky. Austria doesn’t have any players who are dominant, but they have a very solid overall club. On this indoor clay court, with a strong crowd, it’s not going to be easy.

Thinking back to the last time that we played Austria in February 2004 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut (the United States swept Austria, 5-0), it was a totally different atmosphere, but one of the things that I remembered the most was how great Jurgen Melzer of Austria played. For a couple of sets against Robby Ginepri, he really made him work. Robby was able to turn it around and win it in five sets, and that was certainly a key match in that series. On a fast indoor court, Andy Roddick set a new serve speed record there, too.

All of our guys have played against their guys a lot, so I think there’s a lot of respect between both sides. For the Austrians to play against the United States in their home country, it is a huge opportunity for them.

This is our first day here at the stadium (the U.S. trained at a different indoor facility in the days prior). I think the court is playing pretty good. Indoor red clay is always going to be tough for us, but as far as the surface itself, it’s in pretty decent condition. By match-time on Friday, I expect that our players will be used to it.

I must say that it’s a little strange coming back so soon after wining the Davis Cup last December, but we know what the deal is. The good news is that we have the same team coming back, and all of the guys are as committed as ever.

I’ve been asked so many times if it was difficult to get the guys to come back. People just assumed that once we won the Cup, the guys would lose some interest, but that’s really not what this team is about. The team has always been about the love for their country and being part of this group of guys and enjoying the Davis Cup weeks. Obviously, the goal to win it all is there, but I think the reason they keep coming back is because they enjoy it so much. Just because you achieve a goal doesn’t mean that you lose your interest and the process to get to the top. That’s just a great lesson to learn from these guys, how much they support Davis Cup.

Although we’re halfway around the world, everyone knew about the Super Bowl and watched some or all of it. Andy Roddick was on a flight during the game, and James Blake, a die-hard Giants fan, was back at the hotel watching it. James and I had an agreement during the Australian Open that if he beat Roger Federer, he could go to the Super Bowl. I changed that to winning the whole tournament, not just beating Federer. So I would have loved to have seen him win it, but I was glad that he got here on Sunday.

Now that we’re here, I’m hoping to get everyone rested and ready to go. It’s going to be a tough weekend, so I want to make sure that everyone is as fit and fresh as possible.



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