Time to hoist the trophy
Expect the U.S. team to end its 12-year Davis Cup jinx
Posted: Friday February 9, 2007 11:11AM; Updated: Friday February 9, 2007 2:13PM
The 2007 Davis Cup competition begins Friday with the men of the United States lacing up their clay-court sneakers to face the Czech Republic on their turf. The Americans' clay-court struggles are well documented, but I'm confident they will net their first world group clay-court victory in 10 years.
Believe it or not, I'm confident about the entire '07 Davis campaign. The American team hasn't hoisted the cup in 12 years, and was last seen bowing out with a whimper to Russia in last year's semifinals as Andy Roddick was stunned twice. But this will be the year.
We have all the ingredients: two star singles players in Roddick and James Blake (ranked No. 4 and No. 6 in the world, respectively), the best doubles team in the world in Bob and Mike Bryan and plenty of accomplished players in reserve. There are also the intangibles, like a favorable draw and great team camaraderie.
American captain Pat McEnroe made it a priority to build a cohesive team when he took over the job in 2000, and while he has fallen short of his ultimate goal of winning the whole thing, he has definitely accomplished his initial goals. This year, it's time to finish what he started.
The first-round matchup was made significantly easier when world No. 12 (and future Mr. Hingis) Radek Stepanek refused to represent his country due to a dispute over the Czechs' choice of team captain. Stepanek is a dual threat because of his singles and doubles prowess, so his absence is a heavy blow to the Czechs' chances.
That puts the onus squarely on the shoulders of huge-hitting Tomas Berdych. But in picking the Americans' Achilles heel -- clay courts for this matchup's surface -- the Czechs also chose Berdych's weakest surface. I doubt he'll be the dominant factor they need.
Looking ahead in the draw, the Americans will face Spain or a depleted Swiss team in the second round. Even without a sidelined Rafael Nadal, look for Spain to beat a Swiss team competing without its top two players, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. The good news for the Americans is that they'll be able to play the Spanish team on U.S. soil, which means it'll be on grass.
The only other team that poses a significant threat on the bottom half of the draw is Argentina. This is a brutal team to face on clay, and it has a pool of talented players to choose from. If the U.S. is forced to play in Argentina, the challenge would be formidable.
While many of the top players in the world have been bemoaning the extra work load that Davis Cup play demands -- Federer, Tommy Haas and Ivan Ljubicic amongst them -- you haven't heard any of those rumblings out of anyone on the American team. The Davis Cup has remained a priority for the U.S., and it is due in no small part to the strong bond and friendships that all the team members share.
Unlike previous generations of American champions, this current group shares a camaraderie and desire to sacrifice personal needs for the good of the team. That unselfishness will be rewarded this year.
Outspoken ATP tennis pro Justin Gimelstob is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He is currently recovering from back surgery after his 11th year on tour.