U.S. faces Belarus in semis this weekend

Updated: September 21, 2004, 6:21 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and the Bryan Brothers, Bob and Mike, will again represent their country in Charleston, S.C., as the United States plays host to Belarus in the semifinals.

"Big shocker for you all," dead-panned U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe when he made the announcement at the U.S. Open. The inclusion of Roddick, the No. 2-ranked player in the world was a given. After that, the pickings were, well, slim and none.

Fish got the call over Taylor Dent and Vince Spadea based on his silver medal performance at the Olympics in Athens. But at the U.S. Open, Fish, Dent and Spadea all lost in the second round. Roddick, who reached the quarterfinals, had won more matches (four) than the other three combined (three).

"They all didn't play too well (at the Open)," McEnroe allowed. "But I got to spend quite a bit of time with all of them at the Olympics and was obviously very happy with what I saw from both Mardy and Taylor."

Fish, who is ranked No. 28 among ATP players -- Dent is No. 22 and Spadea is No. 24 -- ripped through the field in Athens, beating, among others, Max "The Beast" Mirnyi of Belarus. Mirnyi and the mysterious Vladimir Voltchkov are essentially a two-man team that upset Russia and Argentina in the first two rounds.

According to McEnroe, Fish has top-10 potential. Still, his results have been inconsistent. He reached the San Jose final earlier this year, losing to Roddick, and the Halle final, losing to Roger Federer. He also lost in the first round of the Australian Open and, more recently, the Cincinnati Tennis Master Series event.

And then at the Open, he lost to qualifier Michal Tabara in the second round.

"I think Mardy still has a tremendous upside," McEnroe insisted. "He's got a lot of game. We need to keep pushing him in what I think is the right direction, which is to get stronger, get tougher.

"Sometimes he gets a little bit negative on the court and, you know, his feet get a little flat. I think that all stems from his attitude."

McEnroe said that Fish could learn from his Davis Cup teammate.

"When Andy Roddick goes out in practices, he's intense all the time. Mardy is obviously a different type of personality. He likes to play a flowing type of style. I think when you practice things, you then do them in a match. To me, if Mardy just brings up his intensity just a little bit, I think when he gets nervous in a match, which we all do, you can go to that.

"My goal is not to piss them off, but my goal is to get them better."

Mike Bryan, half of the U.S. doubles team, has been nursing a hip injury but McEnroe said he was healthy enough to play against Belarus. The Bryans are still the No. 1-ranked ATP doubles team but they have struggled recently. They failed to defend their 2003 French Open title and lost opening-round matches in Toronto and Cincinnati. They only reached the quarterfinals in Athens and were eliminated in the third round of the U.S. Open.

"He may have to have surgery at some point down the road, which has, I think, been playing on his head a little bit," McEnroe said. "When you have something that's sort of nagging at you, I think that's been tough for him."

The United States, trying to make it tough on Belarus, chose the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston from Sept. 24-26. The courts are "slow" hardcourts, as opposed to the "fast" hardcourts the Belarus players prefer. The heat and humidity, based on their dismal performance in Athens, will also work in the Americans' favor.

A victory would place the Americans in the final, opposite the winner of Spain-France. If Spain wins, the Americans would go overseas, to presumably play on painfully slow clay. If France wins, the site would be in America.

The Americans started practicing in Charleston on Monday. They held a mini-camp over the weekend in Austin, Texas. Any questions about whose Davis Cup team this is? Austin is where Roddick lives.

"Our biggest thing is that our whole team is on the same page, as far as we all have the common goal of trying to win this together someday," Roddick said Monday. "I think it helps that we do get along and that we are friendly off the court makes these weeks a lot easier."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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