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Courier says U.S. to have mental edge in Davis Cup
By John Delong
Journal Sports Columnist
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
CHARLOTTE - Jim Courier, former tennis great, is keeping busy at the ripe old age of 35. He's a business partner and player on the fledgling Outback Champions Series, a five-tournament senior-tennis circuit featuring John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Chang, Mats Wilander and other forehand blasts from the past.
He's a television analyst for various networks at various Grand Slam venues. He's active with his charitable foundation, Courier's Kids. He's on several advisory boards and is always on call as an all-around ambassador for the game.
Yesterday, he was also an odds-maker.
U.S. a favorite
The 2006 Davis Cup quarterfinals are less than two weeks away, and Courier - a coach on the U.S. team that beat India in a World Group Qualifier at Joel Coliseum in the fall of 2001 - has been sizing up the brackets.
He labels the United States as an overwhelming favorite to beat Chile on grass in Rancho Mirage, Calif. And he gives France a 40-percent chance of winning at Russia in the opposite quarterfinal tie.
Those are encouraging lines in regard to Winston-Salem's efforts to land the Davis Cup semifinals in September. The U.S. will serve as host if the U.S. and France win, and USTA officials have already tabbed Joel Coliseum as a possible site. If the U.S. loses, obviously, it won't be the host of anything in September. If the U.S. wins and Russia beats France, the U.S. would travel to Russia.
"I think the U.S. gets through that match," Courier said. "They'll be a heavy favorite in all five matches. The Chileans are dangerous, but in my mind, it will be the U.S. without a whole lot of problem."
A close matchup
Courier said that the France-Russia quarterfinal could hinge on the status of Russia's Marat Safin, still trying to regain his form after being sidelined with injuries.
"France and Russia, I give Russia a slight edge, maybe 3-2 for Russia. But it all depends on Safin. If he's healthy, he's favored against virtually anyone he plays with the exception of Federer. But I don't know how well he's playing. France is so tough in Davis Cup. For whatever reason, the French players tend to play their best tennis of the season during Davis Cup. They're just solid all-around, all-court players anymore. So it all depends on Safin."
Courier was at the Palisades Country Club for a news conference announcing the Championships at the Palisades, a Champions Series tournament scheduled for Sept. 20-24.
That, coincidentally, is the same week of the Davis Cup semifinals. The Davis Cup will run Friday through Sunday, while the Champions tournament will run Wednesday through Sunday.
A preference for grass
Courier said he understood completely why Andy Roddick and other U.S. players pushed so hard to play the quarterfinal against Chile on a grass surface. That's been the subject of discussion since the site was announced in late February. USTA officials confirmed that Winston-Salem made the best offer, but Rancho Mirage was chosen because the players demanded to play on grass instead of an indoor hardcourt surface.
Roddick won his only Grand Slam title on hardcourt in the U.S. Open. James Blake is far better on hardcourt than grass. The doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan isn't significantly better on grass. And Francisco Gonzalez, Chile's top player, reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year before losing to Roger Federer. Those aren't compelling reasons to demand grass.
But Courier believes that the U.S. will now have an extreme emotional edge.
This week's Nasdaq 100 in Miami is being played on hardcourts. After the Davis Cup, the Chileans will head to Europe for the clay-court season, but the Americans will either go to Houston or take some time off.
"It's probably a 20-percent difference from a playability standpoint," Courier said. "But it's probably a 50-percent difference mentally for the players. Not only the positive impact it has for the U.S. players, but the negative impact it has for the Chilean players.
"Think of it this way. The Chilean players really get amped up and excited about playing on clay courts. That's a big opportunity for them to move their ranking in the right direction. This is right before the clay-court season. So for them to have to go from hardcourts to strapping on their grasscourt shoes, in California, as far away from Europe as you can get. And then they're going to have to turn around and go nine time zones away to Europe. Whereas, the Americans aren't going to go to Europe in the aftermath of the Davis Cup, they're going to regroup in the States and play Houston and relax a bit.
"They're not as concerned about making their ranking in the clay-court season, and that's a big difference. That's probably a driving force for the players."
So maybe it will all work out and the U.S. will benefit from playing on grass, and Winston-Salem will wind up getting its Davis Cup in September.