Commentary

Roddick rides emotional wave; sends U.S. to Davis Cup final

Call it a life-altering experience. Fifteen years ago, Andy Roddick attended the Davis Cup final and decided tennis was in his blood. Now, Roddick is a step closer to leading the U.S. team to its first title since 1995.

Updated: September 26, 2007, 9:59 AM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | Special to ESPN.com

GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- Credit the put-out to Andy Roddick, with a big assist from a thousand miles away in Moscow.

Roddick kept his perfect streak intact Sunday, defeating late singles entry Jonas Bjorkman 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to win a clinching Davis Cup match for the ninth time in as many chances. That launched the U.S. team into its second final in four years -- and thanks to Russia's comeback from a 2-1 deficit against Germany the same afternoon, the U.S. will host that final for the first time since 1992.

Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and John McEnroe -- playing in his last Davis Cup -- combined to beat Switzerland in Fort Worth, Texas, 15 years ago this December. A boy from nearby Austin attended the championship with his tennis club, and has always said it changed his life.

"It just kind of blew my mind, to see the team that we had there," said Roddick, 25.

Andy Roddick
Daniel Sannum Lauten/AFP/Getty ImagesAndy Roddick did not have his serve broken once vs. Jonas Bjorkman, and in the process, clinched the tie for the U.S. over Sweden.
"I wasn't one of these kids raised to be a tennis player at all. But just seeing something like that is pretty powerful. You know, being with the other fans in an arena like that, seeing your heroes play, hearing the anthem for the first time, it really was the first time I'd been at a sporting event which was just, you know, completely about patriotism and that whole thing. I think I fell in love with it then."

Now the fifth-ranked Roddick will try to lead an accomplished and perhaps uniquely unified U.S. team to its first title in 12 years. He, like fellow singles player James Blake and the Bryan twins, have played for only one captain in their Davis Cup careers -- Patrick McEnroe, who has casted and guided the team since 2001.

"It would be just a huge accomplishment, especially since we've been doing this for a lot of years together as a team," said McEnroe, whose inclusive management style and open elation on the bench have forged a strong bond of loyalty with his players. "I enjoy the journey with these guys because they're so committed and they're so easy to be around and they love playing, they love playing for their country."

From the start, the 2007 Davis Cup campaign looked as if it would present one of the best opportunities in recent years to go all the way, especially when the U.S. was able to win a tough opener on clay in the Czech Republic in February. Roddick won both his singles matches there and Bob and Mike Bryan took the doubles in straight sets.

In the quarterfinals, James Blake's opening win over fellow top-10 resident Tommy Robredo set the tone as the U.S. swept Spain on indoor hard court in early April in Winston-Salem, N.C. Next up were the Swedes, who made the tactical decision to play to their own strength rather than the U.S. vulnerability on clay and selected indoor carpet as the surface.

Sweden put up a fight, as the 56th-ranked Thomas Johansson upset No. 7 Blake on the first day and the scrappy doubles combination of Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin pressured the top-ranked Bryans throughout a marathon first-set tiebreak before going fairly quietly in the second two sets.

Roddick booked the team's trip to the final by executing on both his service and return games, keeping Bjorkman on his heels in the second-set tiebreak. The crafty Bjorkman, still capable of acrobatic moments at age 35, mixed in his characteristic mix drop shots and angled volleys to try to keep Roddick off-balance. But he couldn't make a dent in Roddick's serve.

"If you would have told me going into this weekend that I wasn't going to get broken for the entire weekend, I would have looked at you like you were a little bit nuts, a little bit crazy," Roddick said. "But I kind of found a groove. I guess I was able to just build upon what I did at the [U.S.] Open. … My serve definitely, definitely was able to bail me out at some pretty key moments this weekend."

While Roddick's serve is still one of the main structural beams in his game, Bjorkman said he also deserves credit for his staying power in rallies.

"Sometimes it doesn't look that he moves well, but he does," said Bjorkman, who hadn't played Roddick since a Davis Cup tie in 2004. "Sort of the way he moves, long steps, it looks maybe sometimes not so smooth, but he's always there.

Best W-L, USA Davis Cup
Chance to Clinch Tie
Player W-L
Andy Roddick 9-0
John McEnroe 6-0
Arthur Ashe 4-0
Jim Courier 5-1
Andre Agassi 4-1
Pete Sampras 3-3
Todd Martin 2-2
"Everyone speaks about his serve, but I think sometimes they forget about the variety of his game. He actually has good movement back from the baseline and also he makes a lot of returns. He's always been a great fighter. I think his backhand is much better now. I would say when I played him three years ago, you felt that if you came in on a good approach, it was really tough for him to make a pass. I think now he's much more confident to hit it."

Roddick accepted the compliment and added that he thinks he's better than he used to be at keeping his cool in these matches that mean as much to him as anything in tennis. "I've kind of found this comfort level with playing Davis Cup, whereas early on in my career I would be maybe get a little bit too overanxious," he said.

McEnroe agreed. "He's obviously very high-strung in a good way, energetic," the U.S. captain said of Roddick. "Sometimes that could get the best of him when he was a little younger. Now he rides, I think, the emotional wave a little better in these best-of-five-set matches. & I think today was just another example of him sort of weathering a great set from Jonas and playing a great tiebreak."

There was always a possibility that Bjorkman would get thrown into the singles mix as well as playing doubles, but that became a necessity when Thomas Johansson, who beat James Blake on Friday, was hit with what may have been the same stomach bug that depleted the U.S. team a few days before. Swedish captain Mats Wilander said Johansson had a fever and elected to replace him two hours before the match.

Four U.S. cities are candidates to host the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 final, although Portland, Ore., appears to be the front-runner ahead of San Diego, Oklahoma City and Winston-Salem. The only certainty is that the Americans will choose hard court.

Roddick appeared to tip off the site selection during his post-match comments when he promised that "We're going to try to export all of the clay out of the state of Oregon. … I don't know if they have clay courts in Oregon, but hopefully they'll cover them up during that weekend."

U.S. Tennis Association CEO Arlen Kantarian said the location will be formally announced within a couple of days. Kantarian also said he hopes to have the Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling system, which has not been used in U.S. Davis Cup play before, installed at whatever site is chosen.

International Tennis Federation rules currently call for unlimited challenges in Davis and Fed Cup play. That's been a sticking point in the past for the U.S., which prefers the limited challenge system used in Grand Slams for the last two seasons. Kanterian said he is confident the issue can be resolved.

Bonnie D. Ford is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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