The US team took on the Spanish steam in the quarter finals of the 2007 Davis Cup at the Joel Coliseum in Winston Salem, NC. The US was trying to avenge it’s 2004 loss in the finals at Spain which was on red clay. Spain was without Rafael Nadal the #2 player in the world who skipped the tournament because of a foot injury even though he looked fine the week before at the Sony Ericsson tournament in Miami. There is speculation that Nadal was resting and getting ready for the upcoming clay court season instead of helping his country in this tough match up. The Spanish team consisted of Tommy Robredo, currently #6 in the world in the ATP rankings, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.
The US countered with Andy Roddick, James Blake and Bob and Mike Bryan. This steady foursome has been the USA’s main team for about two years now. Roddick currently #3 in the world had to drop out of the Sony Ericsson one week prior due to a hamstring injury suffered in a loss to Andy Murray. Because of his injury he came in to the Davis Cup questionable and unsure of his ability to perform. Blake who had a career year in 2006 and started this year with a win in Adelaide, Australia has struggled since. He has lost in the early rounds in the last few tournaments and his confidence seems to have been shaken. In an interview prior to the tournament I asked him about the how he was doing mentally. I also asked him how his preparations were coming along physically and mentally. Here are the questions I asked James.
Q. I wanted to see how your confidence is going and how you’re mentally doing, not having the success as you had in the past lately?
JAMES BLAKE: I’m feeling great actually. I mean, obviously I haven’t had a ton of success in the last few weeks, and that’s frustrating. But being realistic, I knew at some point in my career these kind of things were going to happen whether it be a loss of confidence or fitness, whatever happened, I just haven’t played great. Those things are bound to happen after having so many good results.
I’m just ready to turn around hopefully, but I’ve always prepared for the situation. Last year things were going so well that we kind of — with my coach, I would talk about the fact that I’m going to have to, at some point in my career, deal with some ups and downs.
Right now is an up. You got to ride that and deal with playing well when things are going well, stay positive, not get too ahead of yourself. If you get down, if there’s ever a time when you’re losing some matches, not to get too down on yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
Obviously I’m still a competitor. It hurts every time I lose. I get down on myself for a little bit. I have to be educated about it and realize the only thing to do now is get back to the practice court, play hard, figure out what the problems are.
Like I said earlier in this call, I probably was stretched a little too thin, and now I’m kind of making the conscious decision to not let that happen and make sure my focus for the next however long I feel like I need it to be is tennis and rest. Those are the two most important things in my career right now. That’s what I’m going to try to accomplish.
Q. How do you practice and prepare going into the hard courts, then to the clay? During your travel season, how do you prepare for the clay season? Are there courts around when you’re traveling?
JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I practice at Saddlebrook. That place, one of the few places that has all the surfaces, all the Grand Slams, red clay, green clay, hard court, Rebound Ace and grass courts. I can practice there getting ready for any situation.
That’s been great for me. Right now I’m practicing on the hard getting ready for Davis Cup, because for me Davis Cup is so important. I’d like to succeed there. That would be a huge boost to my confidence even though it’s been raining a little bit lately.
Succeeding in Davis Cup would go a long way to make me feel better and more confident. Then the clay I’ll have to adjust to quickly. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that quickly for Houston. If not, Houston will be a way to improve for Rome and Hamburg and the French Open. We’ll see if I can do that. My main focus right now is getting ready for the Davis Cup.
Meanwhile, the Bryan brothers have taken over the #1 doubles spot in the world (ATP ranking). They have won all four majors including last year’s US Open. They are counted on very strongly to capture the doubles match each and every Davis cup. They have a career 10-1 win loss record, their only loss vs. Ljubicic and Ancic of Croatia in 2005. Captain Patrick McEnroe seemed quite confident going into the April 6 weekend especially when Roddick announced he would play.
The home crowd of 14,000 + was motivational for the US team. The US chose a hard in-door court since they were the home team. First up was Blake vs. Robredo. Blake came out firing and his confidence soared as the match went on. Backed by the cheering crowd he took control of the match and Robredo seemed lost. Blake disposed of the #6 player in the world in three straight sets giving the US a 1-0 lead in the best of 5 tournament. Blake played a great match and had many more winners to unforced errors. The opposite happened to Robredo. At the interview after the match Blake was very modest yet positive of the USA’s chances in this Davis Cup tie.
In the 2nd match Roddick met Verdasco, a semi-surprise fill-in for Ferrer. Ferrer has been a top 20 player in the last year but Roddick seemed to have his number the last two times he has played.
Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez chose Verdasco over Ferrer this up and coming left handed Spaniard has climbed to We were supposed to #32 in the world. He ended up being no match for Roddick whose powerful serves and all around play was too much. Verdasco actually out played Roddick in the first set and it looked as though Roddick’s hamstring was acting up as he did not go after every ball. Verdasco got an early break but Roddick broke back at 4-5 and then took charge in the tie breaker. Roddick moved much better the last two sets and easily dispatched of Verdasco in three sets. At the interview after the match Roddick spoke very highly of the home crowd saying it was one of the best he has ever played for in the Davis Cup. The atmosphere and excitement brought out the best in him and he thanked the crowd after the match.
Down 0-2 going into doubles Saturday the Spanish team had it’s work cut out for them vs. the Bryan brothers. The US twins won the first two sets vs. Lopez and Verdasco before the Spanish team won their first set of the tournament. The small yet loyal Spanish supporters located behind their own bench finally had something to cheer about. The fourth set was evenly matched and at times it looked like it would go to a fifth set but the positive Bryan brothers and energized crowd carried them to a 7-6 set win to clinch the Davis Cup tie for the Americans. In true Bryan brother’s fashion they gave their traditional chest bump in a key point late in the match. After the match everyone on the US team couldn’t stop talking about the home crowd atmosphere and total team chemistry. They also talked about how well prepared they were in an overall great team effort. Marty Fish’s name kept coming up as he was ready to play in case Roddick couldn’t go. Fish exuded great team play by practicing with the team and supporting them instead of concentration on his individual season like Nadal.
In the reverse singles on Easter Sunday coach McEnroe decided early to substitute Bob Bryan for Roddick because of Roddick’s hamstring injury. Robredo was chosen to play for the Spanish team. Bob Bryan rarely plays singles but stayed neck and neck in the first set as they reached four all. The lefty Bryan’s big serve kept him close until Robredo broke him late in the first set and finished him off in the second set. It was a fun match as Bob gave it his all while over-matched against the Spaniard. There were some exciting points and laughter was exchanged between players on certain points. Bryan had a care-free attitude and threw his racket at the ball in fun a couple of times.
The last match featured Blake vs. Lopez in this dead rubber (meaning the outcome of the tournament was already decided). Blake won in three sets to give the US a 4-1 win.
McEnroe, Blake and the Bryan brothers had a lot of respect and admiration for Roddick mentioned in a post-tournament interview. Roddick showed a lot of guts and loyalty to the US team as he ended up withdrawing from the Houston Clay court championship the following week because of his injury. That move proved his character to the Davis cup team. He not only enjoys playing in Houston where he has won three tournaments but he also resides in Austin which isn’t too far. Roddick has felt a sense of duty since his first Davis cup experience in 1992 when he attended as a 9 year old spectator with his family in Ft. Worth, Texas. Some people consider the 1992 Davis Cup team the best ever with Jim courier, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras.
That team was so good that Sampras (who won the 91 Open) wasn’t good enough to play singles. Roddick had great memories of that team which beat Switzerland in the final and saw them run around with the American flag afterwards and playing the song “Proud to be an American”. Since then it stuck with him as he feels a great honor to play in the Davis Cup.
The US team was happy but not yet satisfied. They will play the semifinals of the Davis Cup in September in Sweden right after the US Open. The winner of that match will play the winner of Germany vs. Russia in the finals. This US team seems destined and confident to win its first Davis Cup since 1995. For more information go to www.daviscup.com