For eight years the unofficial rallying cry of the U.S. Davis Cup team has been "Wait till next year!" Since winning the 103-year-old competition for the 32nd time in 1995, the U.S. has reached the finals only once, getting drubbed 5-0 by the Swedes in 1997. Captain Patrick McEnroe has been determined to change that battle cry—and he almost did it in unintended fashion when he took his team to Slovakia for a qualifier last weekend and nearly saw its chance to win the 2004 Cup ruined five months before it started.
The matchup wasn't supposed to be that difficult, because the Yanks went to Bratislava with an ace in the hole: Andy Roddick, the No. 2 player in the world and reigning U.S. Open champ who committed to the team even though it meant traveling halfway around the world to play on clay, his least favorite surface. For his troubles, Roddick nearly became the goat. In his first match he was taken apart by the 60th ranked player in the world, Dominik Hrbaty, putting the U.S. down 1-0 in the best-of-five tie and delighting an uproarious drum-beating full house of 4,200.
Roddick's surprising stumble placed the onus on his teammates—singles player Mardy Fish and the doubles team of identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan—and their response both brightened the U.S.'s bleak present and augured a shining future. Playing Karol Kucera, the top Slovak who knocked him out of the U.S. Open, Fish started off slowly ("I was in shock about Andy," he said) before rallying to win 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1. Then the 25-year-old brothers Bryan (SI, Sept. 1) won in straight sets before Roddick redeemed himself by trouncing Karol Beck to clinch the tie.
The Bryans give the U.S. its most dangerous doubles team in ages. In addition to being strong on the serve—they weren't broken in Slovakia—Bob is 6'4" and Mike is 6'3", making it tough to get a ball past them. With the Bryans and Roddick the U.S. has a lineup that should make it the favorite in at least three matches at every Davis Cup showdown. Factor in the potential of Fish, 21, and "Wait till next year" suddenly has less of a hollow ring. "We're young and dedicated," says McEnroe. "We can win the Cup."