<
>

Fish: Roddick's one of the guys

4/8/2004

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Andre Agassi competed in Davis Cup with Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier, yet Agassi says this U.S. Davis Cup team has something they never experienced.

"I came along in a generation where me, Chang, Courier, Pete, we're fighting for No. 1 in the world," Agassi said during the Nasdaq-100 Open. "I think that got in the way of us having the fellowship that we really could have shared -- the enjoyment we could have shared."

The current Davis Cup team is a rotating group of young guns who are picked by captain Patrick McEnroe for each tie based on ranking, who's on a hot streak, the surface (which the host country selects), and record against the potential opponent.

Andy Roddick, currently the No. 2 player in the world behind Switzerland's Roger Federer, leads the list of singles players, followed by No. 18 Mardy Fish, No. 36 Taylor Dent, No. 41 James Blake and No. 43 Robby Ginepri. They're all between the ages of 21 and 24. Then throw into the mix the No. 1 doubles players in the world with 26-year-old twin brothers Mike and Bob Bryan.

"You look at these guys and you just go, 'These are guys that share a lot off the court as well as on the court,' and, you know, that's something that I respect and admire," Agassi said. "So I pull hard for them."

This weekend, the United States plays host to Sweden on a slowed hard court in Delray Beach. Fish, who won the ATP Tour tournament here last year and is undefeated against anyone on the Swedish team, drew the leadoff spot on Friday afternoon against Jonas Bjorkman; Roddick follows, playing Thomas Enqvist. The Bryan brothers play doubles Saturday, with Fish and Roddick, if necessary, playing reverse singles on Sunday.

There was some speculation about a fifth spot on this weekend's team going to the third-highest ranked American, Vince Spadea, who is 29 and from Boca Raton, Fla. Spadea recently rebuilt his ranking from a low in the 200s to No. 23 in the world. Spadea, who has never played a live Davis Cup rubber, might find himself on the team if his streak continues and he raises his ranking further, although McEnroe does not have to follow rank.

Roddick and Fish also grew up just a few miles from Delray Beach. Fish lived with Roddick's family as both attended Boca Prep in Boca Raton, Fla. They used to "race" to the school, trying to discover the fastest route, with Fish in his Mustang and Roddick in his Blazer. The loser would supposedly buy lunch, although Fish said it rarely happened.

"We could have really driven together, but we didn't want to do that," Fish said.

McEnroe used the already cemented foundation of friendship to build this team. Under his leadership, the players began watching each other's matches outside of Davis Cup, offering encouragement. Roddick became the first to break out, but Fish said you can't tell he's one of the top players in the world when he's with them.

"He throws everything away," Fish said. "You know you throw all of his tournament wins and U.S. Open titles out and he's just your friend and your teammate for that week. He's awesome. It's no different for him or James or Taylor or anyone else. He hits better than anyone else, and it's all a team. It's the same for the Bryan Brothers."

Roddick said McEnroe makes a year-round effort to be there with the players, supporting them outside of Davis Cup, as well.

"Watching these guys play," McEnroe said, "I feel like I go through every point with them and am really there in that sense, mentally, with them throughout the match."

Roddick said he doesn't think even if the young Americans began to compete more for the top spots in tennis that it will affect the friendship between them. But he emphasized that the previous generation did their job: They won Davis Cup.

"I think it will be a lot more special for us if we ever do get there, knowing we did it kind of with our buddies," Roddick said. "That will be a fun time, if we ever get there."

"We all came up sort of separately," Agassi said of his generation. "I think that didn't lend for a lot of understanding between each other along the way.

"But I think with this group of guys, it's different. I think they've counted on each other; they help each other. So they're sort of accomplishing these things together in a sense. I think that would stand the test of time and competition."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.