U.S. has high Davis Cup hopes

The Americans may have their best shot at the title since 1995 as they open against Romania.

Associated Press
Published February 10, 2006

SAN DIEGO - The United States will try to take the first step in ending a long dry spell in Davis Cup play, facing Romania in first-round matches beginning today.

The Americans have won the Cup 31 times, but not since Pete Sampras took his singles matches and teamed with Todd Martin to win doubles against Russia in 1995.

Patrick McEnroe has high hopes for this year's team, which sends out Andy Roddick and Tampa's James Blake in singles, and twins Mike and Bob Bryan in doubles against Romania.

"I think all the guys really feel like this year could be our year," said McEnroe, in his sixth year as the U.S. captain.

"We have a good chance to go deep in the event. I think we've got as good a chance as anyone to win it."

That doesn't mean McEnroe is taking the opening matches for granted, saying Romania will be tough to beat. Last year, the team of Roddick, Andre Agassi and the Bryans lost 3-2 in the first round to the Croatian team led by Ivan Ljubicic. Croatia went on to win its first Davis Cup.

Roddick cautioned, "Before we think about winning it, we have to think about winning this weekend."

Romanian captain Florin Segarceanu knows weird things can happen in the tournament.

"In Davis Cup, you always get some surprises, like the one you had last year with Croatia," Segarceanu said. "Thinking that we are also a Balkan country, maybe we can follow those guys."

Roddick, ranked No. 3, will face No. 82 Andrei Pavel in the opening match as determined by Thursday's draw . Blake, who just moved into No. 20 for his highest ranking ever, faces No. 41 Victor Hanescu in the second and final match of the day.

The top-ranked Bryans' match, probably against Hanescu and Pavel, is the only one Saturday, with the final two singles Sunday.

In other first-round matches around the world, Croatia opens defense of its title against Austria, Argentina plays Sweden, Belarus goes against Spain, Switzerland meets Australia, Germany faces France, the Netherlands plays Russia, and Chile plays Slovakia.

While it's often difficult to fit Davis Cup competition into their schedules, the U.S. players enjoy the different atmosphere.

"It's sport's ultimate honor, whether it be the Olympics or any other international competition, to be asked to represent your country," Roddick said. "I think that's why all of us are so committed to the Davis Cup cause."

Said Blake: "Being a relatively isolated sport, you're out there a lot of times competing for somewhat selfish reasons - yourself, you're representing your family always. But to represent something greater, your country, is really an honor."

And the crowds are different. During Davis Cup matches, fans usually get a bit rowdy, blow horns, clank bells and make a lot of noise to back their team.

Talking about the "USA" chants that will be coming, Roddick said, "It's fun because you feel what it might be like to be a home team, playing on your home floor in basketball or something like that."

And then there's the road.

"Bob and Mike and I, we've been on the other side of it in Spain with 27,000 breathing down your neck," Roddick said, referring to the Americans' loss in the 2004 final. "I still appreciate that because it's Spain showing passion for the sport.

"It's just a cool experience."