#1. No More Tears for Victorious US Davis Cup Team
US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe had seen it all and more in the past six years: a thumping at the hands of the great Federer in Switzerland; a humbling at the hands of Ivan “The Terrible Big Server” Ljubicic in Zagreb; and a muddy, clay-stained boot-in-the-face courtesy of the French. Then the imperialism-hating Spanish fans in a raucous soccer stadium Seville taunted PMac’s Merry Pranksters. The next year, an Andre Agassi-led Dream Team imploded in Carson, Califronia. In ‘06, the team got a chance to visit Moscow, the site of Pete Sampras’ remarkable victory over the Russians on red dirt in ‘95, the last time the U.S. had won a Cup. Unlike Pistol Pete, that U.S. team usurped no one and suffered an exhausting and demoralizing loss.
So, after his team swept Russia 3-0 in Portland to bust its record 12-year-Davis Cup drought, McEnroe recalled the ‘02 semi against France when his top player, Andy Roddick, had lost two singles matches on clay and felt like the world was collapsing on him. “The next morning we were in the van and he said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I said, ‘What are you sorry about?’ He put it on the line then and did it every time. He’s done it for us and, even though he’s taken his shots from everyone, including me, with the losses he’s had, he’s put everything he has into Davis Cup. He’s sets the tone for us.”
Roddick did that and more with a straight-set thumping of Dmitry Tursunov, which allowed James Blake to cut loose and score the biggest win of his career over Mikhail Youzhny in a vintage four-setter. That brought on the ultimate closers, Bob and Mike Bryan, who despite the worst case of nerves of their career that caused the lefty Bob to puke after the match, closed out Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-2 to give the U.S. its record 32nd crown.
The team celebrated wildly later, pouring beer all over each other while choking back tears of joy. They are a veteran group now, but as Roddick noted, they can act like candy-crazed 10-year-olds. The Davis Cup means everything to them. “Last year when I lost to Tursunov in Russia I was crying my eyes out, too,’ Roddick told IT. “It hurts more to lose in Davis Cup because it’s not all about you. It affects a lot more people. Davis Cup losses are the worst, but even when you are going through the process of losing, pouring your heart out and having your teammates say they are proud of you, this is always in the back of your mind, that you can win someday, and we finally did it. It’s not real yet to me, but we did it and we are all just thrilled.”
Back in ‘00 when John McEnroe bailed on his problematic captaincy and Sampras and Agassi essentially swore off play, Pat McEnroe was left with a small group of declining veterans and green rookies. There was no way that the U.S. was going to win the Cup until the likes of Roddick, Blake and the Bryans matured. They had one great shot back in ‘05, when Agassi decided to rejoin the team for one tie but they were shocked by Croatia at home, as Agassi couldn’t contend with the speed of the court, the Bryans were out-served and U.S. nemesis Ljubicic played one of the best matches of his life in downing Roddick. “That was partly my fault,” McEnroe said. “That was difficult. And they went on to win it that year. That could have been a year we certainly could have made a real deep run. But other than that, the guys had been there. Andy lost some hellacious matches on the road, including to Tursunov (in ‘06), where he’s just put everything into those matches. He also won some big matches in the Czech Republic. Mardy (Fish) wins in Bratislava. The Bryans win their match, they’re one-all in a relegation match. We remember all those matches.”
This new U.S. team’s real Achilles heel was playing away on clay. During McEnroe’s and Roddick’s tenure, before Portland, they had reached two other semis and one final, all of them losses away on dirt. But in ‘07, they pulled off a huge win over the Czechs on clay away (sans Stepanek) and that set things in motion. They faced Spain at home, Rafael Nadal pulled out and they crushed them indoors in Winston-Salem. They went to Sweden for the semis, but the Nordics chose a fast indoor court and Roddick and the Bryans came up huge again.
Then, against defending champions Russia, they were clearly the better team. Sure, there were sporadic nerves from Blake and the Bryans, who at times were flummoxed by Davydenko’s razor-sharp returns and Andreev’s nuclear forehand, but they threw the hammer down when they had to. “This year I think it looked like, hey, maybe we could play a decent country, and Czech Republic has a good team, but maybe not one of the top, top teams, away on clay,” McEnroe said. “When we won that, we thought maybe things can break right for us. The experience that these guys have had over the years was really key towards handling the away matches and also handling the emotion of the home matches really well.”
The Bryans nearly let their emotions get the best of them, but remained composed enough to be able to race around the Joel Coliseum with the flag held high. Bob said later that once he finished his stint in the bathroom, that he was ready to go out into the Portland night on a much-deserved bender. “I just puked my guts out in the shower,” Bob said with a laugh. “I’ve been nauseous for three days. I’m not going to try to hide that my stomach was doing back flips. I had a circus of monkeys in my stomach, just playing tambourine in there. It was a lot of emotion, especially running out for those intros with the crowd going nuts, fireworks, the whole deal.”
The Bryans’ incredibly enthusiastic yet nervous father, Wayne, told IT: “I’ve always envisioned this. I’ve always wanted doubles to be like this — like another athletic contest, not like a tennis match. I loved all the enthusiasm, the energy. I didn’t dream it, I just saw it with the streamers coming down, the boys winning, the boys playing great, playing loose, not overwhelmed. It was real. I’ve been here.”
The team showed up at their post-match press conference soaked in beer and cracking jokes. “This team is not just this year,” Roddick said. “It’s not just this year we won. It’s a process. This is just the final goal.”
McEnroe’s group has drawn a fair amount of criticism during the past three years, as they have sported two to three top-10 singles players (Roddick, Blake and Agassi) and the world’s No. 1 doubles team and still weren’t able to get it done. But they stayed the course and for all their disdain of the so-called negativity of the analysts, Roddick admitted that the bar was not set too high for his group. When you come from a nation that holds the record in Davis Cup crowns, you are expected to bring home a Cup at least once a decade.
Mission accomplished for Roddick, McEnroe, Blake and the merry Bryans.
“We went into every year expecting to win,” said Roddick, as he left the building with his new girlfriend, SI swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. “You enter a tennis event expecting to win it. We had one of the best teams on paper. Clay is tough for us and we need a little bit of the luck of the draw and we were not thinking that we could beat Spain and Nadal on clay, even though miracles can happen. But we are always going to bust our butts, and I always believed we would win it.”