Thursday, February 15, 2007
Updated: February 16, 3:54 PM ET
Roddick rebounds on red clay
If you think about it, there couldn't have been a better way for Andy Roddick to get over the licking he took from Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals (Roddick won just six games) than the Davis Cup weekend that ended last Sunday.
Going into the round against the Czech Republic, a number of themes that were not exactly the usual of-the-moment stuff were dancing around, flame-like and potentially dangerous. One of the issues was the way U.S. teams have struggled mightily for some time now on the road against even middle-of-the-Davis-pack nations -- especially when the host nation chose to play on red clay. The quality of Patrick McEnroe's captaincy was also an issue in some quarters: It's all well and good to have a bunch of guys on the team who get along great, snap towels at each other in the locker room, and while away down time at the team hotel playing Texas Hold 'Em (Roddick: "James [Blake] is the poker player on the team. What do you expect, dude went to Harvard!")
But when does camaraderie turn into smug entitlement, even when you don't exactly have a multitude of options? Remember, the term Cosa Nostra means "Our Thing" -- emphasis on "Our." And the bottom line is that the U.S., once the Davis Cup powerhouse, hasn't won the Cup since Pete Sampras orchestrated the epic win in 1995 -- against Russia, in Moscow, on a red clay court. The Americans had been to the final only twice since then, and only once under P-Mac. Going into the tie against the Czechs, the U.S. was a team that needed to make a statement, both about American tennis and the team-building philosophy that has been McEnroe's trademark. And the Czechs were no gimme.
Although Blake finished 2006 ranked two rungs above Roddick at No. 4, he's always tended to get tongue-tied during Davis Cup. That's how it played out this time, with Blake losing to the Czech star and No. 1 player, Tomas Berdych, after Roddick opened with a routine win over Ivo Minar. The Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, won the doubles, to put the U.S. in a commanding 2-1 lead. Then Roddick went out played a tight, terrific match against a dangerous opponent (Berdych) to clinch a place in the quarterfinals. Roddick thereby maintained a perfect record when it comes to clinching Davis Cup ties. The captain has handed him the ball eight times, and Roddick's won every one of those matches.
In beating Berdych in a clutch situation (In fact, Berdych took the first set with studly tennis), Roddick quelled most of the festering doubts about the U.S. squad and its captain. He didn't do his own rehabilitation any harm, either.
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