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Defending Champions are Solid Underdogs vs. Spain

September 12, 2008 06:13 PM

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They are the defending Davis Cup champions, but the U.S. Davis Cup Team will arrive in Madrid in two weeks’ as underdogs against favored host Spain.

The Americans have won six straight Davis Cup ties, including consecutive 4-1wins this year over Austria in Vienna and France in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but are looking down the barrel of what should be their biggest road test ever.

“I think we're a solid underdog,” said U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe.

“Going over to play (Rafael) Nadal on clay and the rest of the Spanish team is tough, but we're excited about it. We played them in 2004 in the final. We played them last year on the way to winning it, so they'll want to get us back. We have a lot of respect for them, and I think they have respect for us.

One thing you can count on is that our guys are – they're going to go for it. I think that's the mindset we have to take. Let's enjoy it; let's have fun; we're the underdogs. But, know, if we can sneak out a match on Day One, who knows?”

The United States will meet Spain in the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Semifinal, September 19-21, before a crowd of over 21,000 fans at the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, a bullring expected to be as electric as the fabled 2004 final in Seville. Attendance could swell to as many as 25,000 rabid Spanish tennis fans daily.

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.

To no surprise, McEnroe selected the same four-man team – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob Bryan, and Mike Bryan – for the 11th consecutive tie. The first time this foursome played together was 2005 in the World Group Play-Off against Belgium on clay.

Captained by Emilio Sanchez, the Spanish have yet to announce their team. Nadal, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion is expected to lead the team along with three other players selected from the talent core of David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, Nicolas Almagro, and Carlos Moya.

“I want to go with the best guys,” said McEnroe. “I want to go with the guys that I think give us the best chance to win. If I thought that someone else gave us a better chance to win I would go with somebody else.

But at this point, I still thoroughly believe that Roddick and Blake give us the best chance. I mean, obviously the fact that they have experience is part of that – not only in Davis Cup, but in big matches overall.

But I don't base my decisions ever on whether they stay together, that kind of thing. Obviously these guys have been together. It's been great for team chemistry and camaraderie, but that stuff doesn't matter too much if you don't think they're the best guys that could give you the best chance to win.”

The consensus team leader, Roddick is 29-9 in Davis Cup singles play, and carries a nine-match winning streak heading into the tie. He is just 6-7 on clay, but has won three straight matches on his least-favorite surface. Notably, all three were played on European soil.

Moving up the ladder toward becoming the teams’ all-time leader in singles wins, Roddick’s passion for Davis Cup has been obvious since breaking onto the team in 2001.

“He's certainly been amazing, his commitment. So I certainly would love to see that happen, and hopefully he'll play for a few more years and stay committed,” said McEnroe on the possibility of whether Roddick could go down as the greatest Davis Cup player in U.S. team history.

“Obviously it's a tremendous responsibility that he's done it, but so have the rest of the guys. So has James. James hasn't always been on the team, but he's answered the call every time he's gotten it.”

Heading into the 2008 US Open, Roddick was looking for a new coaching voice and reached out to McEnroe for help.

A full-time coaching change from brother John won’t happen. McEnroe’s duties include his role as Davis Cup captain, general manager of USTA Elite Player Development, USTA Serves foundation member, TV commentator, and husband and father taking up the bulk of his time.

“Well, obviously I've known him for eight years. It's not anything like a huge surprise, but it's been fun for me to be on the court with him and practice every day and really be the one guy in his ear for a short period of time,” said McEnroe.

“I think he's obviously listened and we obviously have a relationship, so he knows that I want to see him do well. But I'm just happy at the way he's moving and moving forwards, and taking his chances when he gets them. Grinding when he has to grind, but playing aggressive when the opportunity is there.”

Roddick and the Bryan brothers (14-2 in Davis Cup doubles competition) have both advanced deep into the second week of play at the US Open, while Blake was upset in the third round by Mardy Fish. The Madrid semis loom on the horizon.

“I always said I'd rather have guys that are a little bit tired and full of confidence than not,” said McEnroe. “Obviously Andy hasn't played a lot up until the last couple weeks, so I think he'll be fresh no matter what happens the rest of the tournament here.”

“The Bryans have played a lot, but they never seem to have any trouble getting up for Davis Cup no matter what. To be honest, I think when we go over there, we'll take it relatively easy as far as preparing.

James has played a lot. I talked to him yesterday. He was just coming off the golf course, so I suggested he spend a few more days doing that. The guys are fit. They'll be relatively match-tough.

I think when we go over there it will just be getting a good practice in a day and not really doing too much and just sort of gearing up and let it fly come the weekend.”

Coming off a remarkable run to the US Open quarterfinals, and taking a set off the world No. 1, Fish warranted consideration to replace his best friend, but the Captain quickly dismissed the possibility.

“No, not for this match,” said McEnroe. “I’m happy to see those guys doing well, and hopefully they’ll continue to do that. But did Fish have some good results in clay this year I missed?”

A fine run in New York by hard-serving Sam Querrey was recognized by McEnroe, but again, not considered enough of a track record to displace the ninth-ranked Blake.

“James has won some big matches for us in the last two years in Davis Cup,” said McEnroe.

“The last time I checked he was still in the top 10, and nobody else was in the top 40, I believe. Again, I hope that those guys continue to put up results like that in the future and to make it real difficult for me. But for this match it wasn't difficult.”

When Madrid was selected by the Spanish Tennis Federation as the site of the semifinal, team captain Emilio Sanchez and his players petitioned for a change, citing Madrid’s high altitude which lessens the bite of the red clay court surface.

Maybe the altitude could be a little bit of an edge for us. But, obviously they've got great players,” said McEnroe. “They've got the greatest clay court player of all time, so it doesn't matter what kind of conditions he plays in on clay.”

“But, we're excited about going over there. It's a great opportunity for us. The pressure is off really in some way. I don't think people expect us to win. But, I'm really going to go over there and just tell the guys, Let's enjoy this.

I think winning it last year has taken a little pressure off of us as a team, that we've won it, and so we'll go over there and have some fun, enjoy it, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Traveling with the team to Madrid to prepare for the World Group Semifinal are practice partners Scoville Jenkins, Austin Krajicek (winner of the U.S. 18s Nationals), and left-hander David Martin.

The winner of Spain-U.S. advances to face either Argentina or Russia in the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final, November 21-23. No matter who wins that match-up, if the U.S. advances, they would travel as visitors to the final.

Argentina will host the 2007 runner-ups at the Estadio Parque Roca in Buenos Aires outdoors on red clay. Their squad will consist of David Nalbandian, Juan Martin Del Potro, Augustin Calleri and Guillermo Canas.