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UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 24, 2009
TIM CURRY: Thank you everyone for joining us for our media conference call with U.S. Davis Cup captain, Patrick McEnroe. Couple of items before we begin the Q and A portion of the call. The U.S. Davis Cup team will host Switzerland in the first round of the 2009 Davis Cup by PNP Paribas next weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.
Patrick has named the roster of Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Bob and Mike Bryan to represent the United States. It will be the 11th time in the past 12 matches dating back to September 2005 that the U.S. Davis Cup team has used the same lineup.
In addition, Amer Delic and Alex Domijan will serve as practice partners for the U.S. team in Birmingham.
We'll open it up for questions.
Q. So going into this Davis Cup, would you call yourself the favorites?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I certainly would, now that -- with Roger pulling out, obviously that changes the dynamic I think a little bit of the match, of the tie. Certainly if Roger was playing it would be pretty even. I certainly think this makes us a pretty solid favorite.
At the same time, we're certainly not overlooking the team that's the Swiss are bringing in. Wawrinka is a top 20 player. Whether it's Bohli or Chiudinelli -- I see that Chiudinelli has had a couple good wins over in Dubai. I think he's coming back from some injuries.
Those are two guys that are certainly capable of playing great tennis. Wawrinka is certainly capable of winning a couple matches. But certainly with Roger out I think it makes us a pretty solid favorite.
Q. At what point will the Swiss name their team?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I believe they already did. They named Wawrinka, Bohli, Chiudinelli and Yves Allegro, who's more of a doubles player for them.
So we know those guys, and we'll do a little more homework on whoever the second singles player will be. My guess is they probably won't decide that until the day before the match.
Q. Just wondering what your initial reaction was when you heard that Federer pulled out?
CAPTAIN McENROE: To be honest, I was a little disappointed really. I think we were all looking forward to the challenge of playing against Roger. Certainly I think a big part of the reason that we've been able to have such a great turn out anticipated in Birmingham is mostly due to our team and the fact that these guys have been such strong supporters of the Davis Cup for so many years.
Certainly I would be lying if I didn't say Roger didn't have something to do with that as well. He doesn't play Davis Cup that often, and to see him playing in our country would have been exciting for tennis.
As I said in my previous answer, it makes us a more solid favorite. For us, the goal is to try to get back into the later rounds and win the Cup again. We certainly have the capability of doing that. That's the bigger-term goal.
We certainly like the fact that we feel we've got a better chance to advance. I think both Andy and James were certainly looking forward to the chance to play Roger. I know the Bryans were looking forward to playing them in doubles as well.
So it's a little bit of both: it's a little disappointment, and at the same time, you know, obviously I'll probably sleep a little bit better next week as we prepare for the match without having to prepare for Roger.
You want to play against the best. A similar thing happened a couple years ago when we were getting set to play Spain and Nadal pulled out sort of at the last minute. Spain is obviously overall a better team and has more depth than Switzerland.
You want a chance to play against the best, and our guys have always answered the call and really love playing at home. I think that would have been an advantage for them against Federer.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about how the politics have been rearing its ugly intrusive head and what you thought about the Swedish/Israel tie being played behind closed doors?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, the latest I've heard - and maybe you know more than I do - they were talking about moving to another city, to Stockholm. That's latest thing I just saw in the news. That's disappointing. I think you would like to see the match being played, and if there are some security concerns, you would like to see the home country be able to address them.
I don't think you should let a couple fanatics or whatever it is dictate having an event open to the public. You take extra precautions if you need to.
So I was a little surprised, to be honest, that that was happening. I would hope that's in the process of being changed. You certainly don't want to see something like that taking place in an event like Davis Cup. We should all remember Davis Cup came into existence to promote friendship between countries.
That's what it's all about. Obviously competition is huge, but at the end of the day, you respect your opponent and you respect playing for your own country and the countries you compete against.
We've always tried to make that a big part of our home matches. I think the USTA has done a good job over the years accentuate this is two countries playing in the right spirit. That's, to me, what Davis Cup is all about.
Q. I'm sure it's no surprise that I'm going to ask about the practice partners.
CAPTAIN McENROE: No, I'm not at all surprised.
Q. Were there particular reasons you that selected Amir and Alex? Was it part of what their games will bring to the practice?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Oh, definitely. That's always a part of it. Actually, Amer, you know, is such a good guy. He's obviously been playing quite well recently, and particularly in Australia he played well. We've had him on the team a couple times. He's a little bit older than the normal practice partner.
To be honest, when I picked him, it was with the thinking that Federer would be playing. Amer has got - obviously nobody has the game Federer has - but Amer has a one-handed backhand and can serve well and can give the guys, meaning James and Andy, a good run in a couple of sets.
I usually look for at least one player that can go out and play a couple sets with our singles players. If that happens to be a young player, great. If it's going to be two, even better. Obviously Domijan is a guy I saw play a little bit down at the Orange Bowl. Had a great couple weeks there.
Some of our coaches have been communicating with him and have been following him pretty closely. We like his attitude and what we see from him. He's practiced with some of our players already up at Saddlebrook in Florida with the Bryan brothers and with James.
They seem to know him, and we think he's got a tremendous potential. It's a nice combination of sort of a veteran practice guy and Alex, who will get his first taste of that situation.
Q. Birmingham was pretty fired up about this, and they did a great job promoting this event. Have you had any blow-back from them? Has there been any reaction there to Roger's pull out? Are you concerned that there's going to be a sort of disgruntled manner?
CAPTAIN McENROE: I didn't address that specifically. What I said earlier, I think, to resonates on this topic, which is -- my own reaction was, yes, I was a little disappointed when Roger decided not to play. I felt that certainly this is a great event, and he's a big part of the buzz of that initial burst of enthusiasm from Birmingham.
At the same time, Birmingham has been a city that has been looking for a Davis Cup match really for quite sometime now. They've put dates together in the past. I don't think this was solely about Federer.
If fact, I think a big part of this was the team that we have and what these guy have done over the eight, nine years that they've been playing Davis Cup.
So they're still going to see a great event. They'll see our team. Every match we've had for the last couple years has been a sell out of 12,000 to 15,000, 16,000 people. Think I there's a lot of interest in Davis Cup, and particularly this team. I certainly expect that the fans will come out and support our team.
As I said, the bigger goal is still to win the Davis Cup. We all know that without Roger there certainly gives us a better chance to advance this year.
But I think people understand this happens. It happened two years ago when we played Spain in Winston-Salem and Nadal didn't show up. We still had a heck of a tie and tremendous support from the community there.
So I certainly hope to get the same. The short answer is, no, I don't think there's been any real push back. They understand. I think there's some disappointment. At the same time, the chance to see this team and thank them for years of service and get back and win another Cup.
Q. In terms of morale for the team, I mean, this is Davis Cup and therefore it doesn't matter who's out there, they're going to bring the same level of intensity and enthusiasm; is that accurate?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Oh, absolutely. These guys are very gung-ho about playing, particularly when you look at the commitment that they've shown over the years. Going to Spain last year, Andy and -- well, Bob couldn't go because of the injury.
I mean, Andy has put himself in situations where you know you're up against it, but he's answered the call every time. These guys love to play in Davis Cup and certainly to play in our country.
The USTA has done a great job over the years promoting these matches. It's the USTA promoting this event. It's not Birmingham. We do a lot more than just play the match. We try to promote tennis. We get clinics going for the kids. We reach out to the community. All these things are ongoing. That's a big part of what these events are, in addition to the actual match and the pomp and circumstance that I think have made these Davis Cup matches more of an event.
Quite honestly, I think the guys appreciate that. If they appreciate that, they enjoy it and have fun with it. Obviously the fact that they continue to play and support each other as a team is, you know, a pretty monumental effort really.
When you look around the world and you see how much tennis they have to play and how much traveling they have to do. You see what happens with some other players in other countries. They don't show up. These guys have answered the call time after time.
Q. Following up on what you just said there, can you tell us what it means to you as captain to have the dedication of these guys who are willing to play? I know in past years captains have had trouble year to year.
CAPTAIN McENROE: It's been unbelievable. My first tie as a captain was back in 2001. In fact, we played against Switzerland in Switzerland. They had some young kid, a long-haired kid named Roger Federer. We had some young, short-haired kid with a big serve named Andy Roddick.
Andy Roddick has missed one match since then. That was because of a serious injury that he suffered on the wrist in 2002 when he hurt himself in Australia. Maybe 2003.
It's really made my job easy, to be perfectly honest, and also very pleasurable. You know they show up when you ask them to, and I don't need to tell them to do anything. They're team guys. I think they generally enjoy the weeks together.
They're obviously all great friends away from Davis Cup, and they really support each other. I think it's a pretty amazing group in what they've been able to do over the years. I think in a lot of ways, these matches coming up for them should be an opportunity for fans to really thank them. You know, not only support what we're doing now, but really to thank them for their commitment and all they put in, the time and effort, into representing their country.
Q. I was wondering if you saw anything from the broadcast booth in Australia that led you to believe that Federer's back injury was as bad as it was considering how well he played the entire tournament?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I certainly didn't notice anything during the tournament, no. Obviously I mean, the guy played a five setter against Berdych and played a five setter and seemed to be at least physically fine in this fifth set. He obviously kind of lost it a little bit mentally. Maybe a little something that was bothering him.
Jose Higueras, who is now our director of coaching, spent some time working with Roger last year. He did tell me that in the course of his working with Roger last year that his back problem was sort of off and on and ongoing throughout most of last year, the second half of the year. Remember, he pulled out of a couple of the indoor tournaments in the fall because of that.
But so certainly it wasn't something that came completely out of the blue. The answer is no, there was nothing that you saw in Australia that led me to think that he was having any injury of any sort.
Q. With Andy, he's obviously put in the work. He has a new coach, and the results have paid off in Australia and last week in Memphis. Can you talk about his evolving game a little bit, and also his decision this week to not play Dubai.
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I thought that was a pretty gutsy move on his part to do that. It's been interesting over the years to see Andy Roddick, who I mentioned had his first tie as a teenager. He's really grown up and become a man. I think he's principled, and I think we've seen that not only in his decision to not go to Dubai, but in what a professional he is and his commitment to Davis Cup and getting the most out of his ability and what he has and in hiring Larry Stefanki and putting all that work in.
He's really matured a lot. I've been lucky enough to see him play every Davis Cup match he's played. I've seen him go out there when really everything was stacked against him, and he goes out there and gives it 110%. To be honest, to beat Nadal on clay in Spain is not going to be easy. He's sort of willing to go out there and take one for the team, as you might say.
So I'm not surprised, but I'm impressed with the stand he's taken. I've been impressed for years with his commitment to playing for his country and being there for his teammates. It's been fun to watch.
Q. Finally, it seemed like you could have gone another direction with James. His results have been in mixed. Was there some consideration to Sam Querrey, who has been playing well, or maybe a Mardy Fish?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Well, I'm happy to say that both those guys have played well, Sam and Mardy, you know, in the first part of the year here. So certainly that makes me feel better in a way to know that we've got those guys as possible options.
I think James is still ranked a bit higher than they are. He's also played pretty well in Australia. It's funny, because you sort of look at a Sam or Mardy and say, Hey, they have had a good couple tournaments. We kind of take it for granted with James a little bit. James has been a top 10 player.
The fact that James got to the Round of 16 at Australian, we look at it and say, Oh, well, it wasn't a great tournament for him. Where if Mardy or Sam did that we would look at it a little bit differently. I think that's sort of something you have to remind yourself of. James has still consistently been right around top 10 in the world for a number of years.
But I will say that having Sam and Mardy play well certainly makes me feel a little more comfortable. If something were to happen, I could call on one of those guys to step in, as both of them did in Spain.
Q. You just touched on this, but can you just talk a little bit more about how you feel about your team's current form?
CAPTAIN McENROE: Yeah, I think James, I like the way he was playing in Australia. I didn't think he played a great match against Tsonga, but up until that point I thought he really looked good and was playing well.
Since then James been nicked up a little bit. He did beat Querrey in San Jose. I believe it was, match point of two points before the end of the match he twisted his ankle pretty badly. That kind of put him behind the eight ball against Mardy out in San Jose, and then he really wasn't able to practice too much leading into Memphis.
I think that was part of reason he struggled a little bit there. I spoke to him a couple days ago, and he's 100% healthy. He's been able to practice. I know he'll have a good week of practice here leading up. We'll make sure we get James plenty of sets and get him sharp. Usually that works pretty well.
Obviously for the other guys I don't have too much to worry about in the way they've been playing. Andy is obviously off to a great start, 17-3 on the year. I think he's got a great chance to finish the year in the top 5 based on how well he started the year.
The Bryans kicked off winning the Australian. They were pretty tee'd off to not finish the year last year No. 1. They moved all the way down to No. 2. They're motivated and have been working extra hard in the gym. I think we feel pretty good about where we are right now.
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