UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Maybe this is the year for drought-busting by Andy Roddick & Co., aka the U.S. Davis Cup team. A new campaign began in a curious locale on Friday Feb. 6, a best-of-five match weekend series against Austria at a gambling casino called Mohegan Sun. The Americans got off to a fast start as Andy Roddick and Robby Ginepri both won singles matches, then finished off Austria with a doubles win on Saturday by twins Bob and Mike Bryan.
ON THE SITE
The site selection for the tie against Austria by the U.S. Tennis Association raised objections from some lifelong USTA supporters, among them Hall of Famer Ted Schroeder, a prominent figure on court as the Americans won four successive Cups, 1946–49.
“What kind of message is this to send kids –- showcasing our team at a casino?” he has understandably complained.
Nevertheless, the show went on and undoubtedly will earn the USTA a healthy jackpot.
AN OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK
The road to the first U.S. Davis Cup title since a Pete Sampras-led championship over Russia in 1995 looks more favorable than in recent years. Sweden, which stunned defending champion Australia in the first round, is next.
Davis Cup has been a craps shoot for the U.S. since 1995.
The last eight years have been barren, starting with a quarterfinal loss to the Czech Republic in 1996.
This is the longest American Davis Cup dry spell since the decade-long thirst of 1927–36, slaked by the Don Budge-inspired triumph over Great Britain at Wimbledon in 1937.
AMERICANS HAVE THE UPPER HAND
With Roddick and the dashing doublists Bryan twins in the lineup, Austria was not a problem for the U.S., certainly not like the one posed at Vienna the last time the countries clashed in the 1990 semifinal.
Then the husky left-hander Thomas Muster beat both Andre Agassi and Michael Chang in singles, and the 3-2 victory was narrowly clinched by Chang’s stupendous recovery to nip Horst Skoff in the fifth match, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
The Yanks then went on to win the title over Australia.
Though ousted from No. 1 world ranking after falling to Marat Safin in the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, Roddick, now No. 3, figures was far too strong for his opponents.
On Friday, Roddick overwhelmed No. 94 Stefan Koubek 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in 1½ hours — and in the processs set the record for fastest serve at 150 mph.
A BIG CHANCE IN A YOUNG CAREER
To play second singles on Friday, U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe chose Robbie Ginepri, who made his Davis Cup debut a memorable one as he rallied after losing the first two sets.
Ginepri fought back to beat No. 76 Jurgen Melzer 6-7 (6), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, becoming the first U.S. rookie in the 105-year history of the Davis Cup to win a match after dropping the first two sets.
McEnroe also considered Mardy Fish for second singles.
It was Fish who came through big-time in the critical relegation series against Slovakia last September on clay in Bratislava, the 3-2 win keeping the U.S. in the 16-nation World Group.
After Roddick had been stunned by Dominic Hrbaty in the opener, Fish struck back, rebounding to beat the top Slovak, Karol Kucera, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1.
Then the Bryans, making their Davis Cup debut, bowled over Karol Beck and Hrbaty, and Roddick clinched over Beck.
PATRIOTISM GETS A BOOST
McEnroe is heartened by the dedication to Davis Cup that he's encountered.
Roddick, Fish, the Bryans, Ginepri, James Blake and Taylor Dent all want to be playing Davis Cup.
The current crop’s refreshing and crusading attitude is a contrast to some of the times since 1995 when Sampras and Agassi declined invitations and Davis Cups were lost by the U.S.
“We’re together in this,” says Roddick, a sentiment echoed by the others.
Although the taste of victory champagne from the Cup is a long way off, McEnroe’s would-be drought-busters like their chances.
And when it comes to Davis Cup, that's something U.S. tennis fans have to be pleased about.
Watching Rafa Nadal churn his way through the claycourt season over the past few weeks, it seems nothing much has changed since his French Open triumph a year ago despite a lengthy injury layoff.
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