Captain Patrick McEnroe and Mike Bryan at a U.S. team press conference
© Jeff Ryan/USTA
Mardy Fish takes Bob Bryan's spot on the roster
© 2008 Getty Images
By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Madrid, SPAIN – After losing the services of No. 2 singles player James Blake last week, the U.S. Davis Cup team has been thrown another obstacle in its quest to repeat as champion.
Bob Bryan, the hard-serving, left-handed compliment to twin brother Mike, withdrew from the 2008 Davis Cup World Group Semifinal on Tuesday, citing a left shoulder injury. He had hoped a cortisone shot would allow him to play in the important tie but was told by doctors to shut down all tennis activity for several weeks.
“His shoulder has been bothering him since Wimbledon,” said Mike Bryan. “With the long summer, he was taking anti-inflammatory medicine. After the Open, he was pretty sore. I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s fairly serious. He’s going to take a few weeks off and then start rehabbing in Florida.”
Virtually inseparable over the years, the Bryans have played every doubles match together as professionals since a brief hiatus in 2002, beginning at a tournament in Long Island, N.Y., when Bob was still playing in singles qualifying matches. For the record, Mike Bryan was a career 13-2 in doubles without his twin.
“There might be some things that these guys do better than Bob. They could return a little bit better,” said Mike as the team erupted in laughter. “It’s a good experience to step away from Bob and find my own identity.”
On the heels of capturing their second US Open title, the world’s top-ranked doubles team has excelled over the years on Davis Cup Saturdays, compiling a sterling 14-2 record.
A central piece in their remarkable run to the 2007 title, the Americans knew that they could count on a point from their doubles team. Now, suddenly, that point is in jeopardy.
“Spain was always the favorite, so we don’t look at that as making any big difference,” said U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe.
“The time is coming for us to get a couple of young guys into the mix. Obviously, this is a difficult match, we’re all well aware of that. But at the same time, I think it’s a great opportunity for us to come out and play with the kind of enthusiasm that these guys have always had for Davis Cup. In no way do we look at this as a setback but as an opportunity for these guys to show what they can do.”
An able replacement for Blake, Sam Querrey has seen his ranking spike in the past year and recently took a set off Nadal at the US Open. Twice a practice partner, how much can be reasonably expected from the Davis Cup rookie in his big debut?
“Well, let’s see… He’s playing in his first Davis Cup tie, against Spain away, against arguably the greatest clay-court player of all time, so he better win,” smirked McEnroe.
“Sam has come a long way in the past year and has earned the opportunity to play. He’s going to get a lot out of this experience.”
Drawing from a suddenly deep pool of players, McEnroe quickly filled Bryan’s vacancy with steady veteran and close team friend Mardy Fish. An in-form player on the heels of a career-best quarterfinal result at the US Open, Fish can play either singles or doubles. In 2004, Fish was a member of the U.S. team that fell to Spain before a record crowd.
“I had a couple of days to put it all together,” said Fish, who was asked to join the team last Friday after Bob Bryan was declared unfit to play. With his wedding to “Deal or No Deal” model Stacey Gardner in just three weeks time, Fish was able to squeeze in the trip.
“I’m not planning it – I just have to show up,” said Fish. “I helped with the time and the date and the place, and that’s it.”
Bryan and Fish have practiced together over the last few days and are likely to get the nod against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.
Entering the series as prohibitive favorites, Spain has retained its imposing four-man unit, headlined by top-ranked Rafael Nadal, along with rugged top-5 talent David Ferrer, Lopez and Verdasco.
Four-time defending French Open champion Nadal was given extra time to rest by Captain Emilio Sanchez and will be a heavy favorite on slow, red clay, a surface he has dominated.
The best-of-five World Group Semifinal series is expected to attract over 21,000 fans daily at the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas in the heart of downtown Madrid.
Reminiscent of the final in Seville four years ago, the Americans’ task is daunting, staring down not only the best clay-court player in the world but a partisan and raucous crowd, encircling them in an intimating bullfighting ring.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” said McEnroe. “When you walk in, it’s not your traditional tennis venue, but I think it’ll make for a great weekend. I think the guys are really excited about being here and playing in such a unique environment.
Spain’s No. 1 singles player arrived in Madrid on Sunday and has declared himself fit, following a torrid recent stretch that included a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and a semifinal result at the US Open.
Versus and Tennis Channel will air same-day coverage of all three days of competition. Versus will broadcast each day at 12 noon ET. Tennis Channel will re-air coverage at 8 p.m. ET.