U.S. Davis Cup hopes may rest on doubles

Updated: September 19, 2005, 3:31 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

You can almost hear the collective exhale in tennis after the U.S. Open. The last of the Grand Slams played out so cinematically that it would be hard for the rest of the season to be anything but anticlimactic.

Bob and Mike Bryan certainly got a big adrenaline boost. The twin brothers and doubles partners won their first U.S. Open title after a frustrating year in which they fell in the finals at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. "We almost completed the Anti-Slam,'' Bob Bryan quipped after the victory in New York.

But the 27-year-old duo, currently No. 1 in the ATP doubles rankings, avoided that fate by beating Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Belarus. The win capped a busy 10 days for the Bryans, including the announcement that they were among 45 top doubles players to file a lawsuit against the ATP Tour to try to squelch proposed format and scoring changes they view as detrimental to their game.

High emotion, litigation, exhaustion … most Californians might opt to spend this weekend on the beach. Instead, the Bryans flew to Brussels Saturday with the rest of the Davis Cup team for this weekend's matchup with Belgium.

A win would keep the United States among the 16 teams that will contest the championship in 2006. A loss would mean an embarrassing relegation -- exclusion from the final draw -- for only the second time in the last 25 years.

"We like to take the week after the Open off and chill out, but we have a lot of reserves for Davis Cup,'' Mike Bryan said by phone after the team's first practice Sunday. "This is such a big deal. It doesn't matter to us if it's in December. We can find the energy.

"We're not going to let down. If we lose, it's adios, World Group.''

Or au revoir. Or however you say "get lost" in Flemish. The Belgian players will have the advantage of a raucous home crowd in the 3,500-capacity indoor clay facility in Leuven, outside Brussels. But they have less experience at avoiding relegation, making the final round just 10 times since 1981. The U.S. team already has staved off demotion twice before in McEnroe's five-year tenure.

If the Bryans need an added bit of motivation, all they have to do is recall their first loss in six Davis Cup matches, which came earlier this year against Croatia. The U.S. defeat in that tie knocked the team out of the 2005 championships.

The two U.S. singles players are coming off interesting Opens of their own. No. 3 Andy Roddick lost a first-round shocker, then retreated to Vegas to salve his wounds. "I think it will be good for him to have something to shoot for,'' Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said when he announced his player selections.

No. 34-rated James Blake, a strong clay-court player, bowed out of the Open in a memorable and draining five-set, late-night quarterfinal loss to Andre Agassi, Blake's best performance since a difficult stretch that included injury, illness and the loss of his father.

Belgium's highest-ranked singles player, No. 31 Olivier Rochus, will play this week but will be without doubles partner Xavier Malisse, who has been feuding with team captain Steven Martens. The Bryans won't mourn Malisse's absence; he and Rochus beat the brothers in the French Open final this year.

Rochus could be paired with his brother Christophe to set up an all-in-the-family doubles match.

Mike Bryan said one of the reasons it's not hard to get cranked for Davis Cup play is that it's one of the few stages in tennis where doubles gets equal billing.

"For once -- I wish it could be more often,'' he said. "It's the middle match [of five], the pivotal match. We played our Open final in Arthur Ashe at 11 in the morning, and the stadium wasn't even a third full. This one will be loud and jam-packed.''

Notes

Oldie, goodie: Martina Hingis came out of retirement this year to play with the New York Sportimes  yes, that's not a typo, and no, we aren't going to explain what a "Sportime" might be just this minute  of World Team Tennis. Her sportstiming was apparently accurate. Hingis was named Most Valuable Player of the WTT's championship weekend after she led her team to a finals win over the Newport Beach Breakers.

Break(ing) point: U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium, whose acrobatic leg splits are her on-court trademark, has gone to Splitsville with her coach, Marc De Hous. "We have come full circle,'' De Hous, who has coached Clijsters since 2002, said in a report on the player's web site. "I would have loved to have played another year under his guidance,'' Clijsters said.

Bali high: No. 2 Lindsay Davenport won her 49th professional title in Bali over the weekend, but pulled out of this week's China Open, citing a lower back strain. Another tour win would make Davenport the ninth woman to reach the 50-win plateau.

OK, but there is an "I" in Federation: Elena Dementieva won both her singles matches and combined with Dinara Safina in doubles to propel Russia to its second straight Fed Cup title, besting France in Paris. "We win as a team and lose as a team,'' the 8th-ranked Dementieva said modestly afterward.

Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone covers tennis for ESPN.com.