Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Davis Cup: USA Brings the Pain to Spain

Updated April 11, 2007

"I'm darn near speechless because this atmosphere is something I've never been a part of." — James Blake, rendered speechless by patriotic North Carolina fans. California DC fans take note.

1st Singles: Blake def Robredo 6-4 6-3 6-4
2nd Singles: Roddick def Verdasco 7-6(5) 6-1 6-4
Doubles: Bryan/Bryan def Lopez/Verdasco 7-5 6-3 3-6 7-6(5)
1st Reverse Singles: Robredo def B. Bryan 6-4 6-4
2nd Reverse Singles: Blake def Lopez 6-3 7-6(3)

USA 4 - Spain 1
Up next: Semifinal with Sweden in September!

A big sloppy wet thank you to Alina from who provided these highlights of the Roddick-Verdasco match for us.

Download 1st set highlights.
Download 2nd set highlights.
Download 3rd set highlights.

Hello everybody, I am back from attending DC in Winston-Salem and I have to say that that was the most excellent Davis Cup weekend I will probably ever experience.

The sold-out crowd of 14,000+ was so electrifying you would have had to have been a rock to not get caught up in all the excitement. I was sitting four rows from the baseline, excellent seats. I brought a sign to hold but I didn't use it often. Mostly, I waved my pom-pom a lot and went crazy with the maracas. I won't bother getting into any in-depth match analysis because I'm sure you all saw the same matches I did. But here's a rundown of some random observations I made from the Davis Cup weekend:

Traveling there

• Instead of flying like a normal person, I thought it would be an adventure to drive down south, which I'd never done before. My planned 10-hour drive turned into a 15-hour nightmare getting to North Carolina. I definitely should have avoided taking I-95 but I was running late and didn't want to deviate away from original travel plan, or else I'd get lost and lose another hour or so. I ended up getting trapped for hours outside the dreaded Washington, DC loop. Note to self: must avoid loop at all costs.

Ended up staying over in Richmond, VA (nice historical town) and then drove the remaining three hours to Winston-Salem just in time to make the first singles match, Blake vs Robredo. Whew!

• Loved listening to the radio and noting the cultural changes as I passed through the states. There was no country music to be heard in New York or New Jersey. Finally got some country stations when I hit Pennsylvania. Got a lot of Jesus talk when I drove through Virginia and North Carolina.

• Every time I passed by a Waffle House I thought of Robby Ginepri and getting a "shmeal".

Cow alert! Taking I-81 to go back home, there is nothing but beautiful green mountains and acres of farms full of black angus throughout North Carolina, all the way up through Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania. It wasn't until I got to New Jersey that I finally saw some Holstein cows (the classic black and white cows).

• Speaking of animals am I the only one who gets sad at the sight of all the roadkill on the highways? Possum, skunk, squirrels, porcupines, raccoons, deer, and I think even a cat. Such a waste of life.

Random whine: why was I provided a nice little refrigerator in my cheap Comfort Inn room in Richmond to store my food and drink, but not at the more expensive Marriott in Winston-Salem?

• My hotel was crawling with Spanish players. There were three places you could easily find the Spaniards: the elevator, the bar, and Starbucks. I ran into Fernando Verdasco three times on the elevator and soon he started recognizing me; saw Tommy Robredo at the bar, as well as their coach Emilio Sanchez who is a very nice man. Saw Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer at Starbucks. F.Lo is vain and lacks charm. He reminds me of a modern day Narcissus, a handsome boy content to just to stare at his beautiful reflection all day long. Ferrer was a bit aloof and didn't make eye contact with anybody except the girl taking his order. Yeah David, I know how that is. I too hate being pestered by fans before I get my morning coffee.

• No American players were to be seen anywhere, by anyone!, not even after camping out at their favorite watering hole, Starbucks. It turns out that they were staying at another hotel. Saw the American moms, though, Blanche Roddick and Betty Blake. There was only this little tidbit in the local paper: "hortly after the United States clinched the Davis Cup tie against Spain yesterday, a silver Honda courtesy car from Flow Motors was spotted driving along University Parkway toward downtown Winston-Salem. The driver? None other than James Blake. And his passengers were Andy Roddick in the front seat and Blake's brother, Thomas, in the back seat. And the car was traveling well within the speed limit."

At the matches

• The buzz in the crowd was electrifying. Everybody was so excited about this match. You could almost feel how important this was, that 2007 may finally be the year we win the Cup. People were jumping out of their shoes waiting for the Blake/Robredo match to start, and I think James got the best crowd he could ever hope for. Of all the players, I think it was Blake who benefited the most from the crowd's adulation.

Dumbest rule: A lot people brought little flags to the matches to wave but they were confiscated because they had wooden rods on them. This is just another silly Post-9/11 band-aid rule that does nothing to really protect anybody from harm but only serves to annoy and inconvenience good, law abiding citizens who just want to have a good time at a sporting event. Some people did manage to sneak flags in anyway.

Random curiosity: why wasn't a speed gun used at this DC like there usually is?

Pascal Maria the chair ump really is a rat. After a line dispute during the Bryan's doubles match somebody yelled "Fire the ump!"

Best sign: "Finish the Job, Mike and Bob."

Best sign the TV didn't show you: somebody had created a brilliant charicature drawing of Andy and James with the word "Sweden" in a thought bubble above them. The drawings were terrific.

• I'll bet Sam Querrey was stunned to see so many people who recognized him. I heard one fan screaming "Saaaaaaaaamm!" when he posed for photos after the matches (it wasn't me). He signed a lot of autographs for the kids during change-overs. In contrast, it didn't appear that many knew who Donald Young was, which was surprising considering the amount of hype he gets in the media.

F.Lo's underpants were so transparent that he didn't look like he was wearing any! At one point during the doubles he crouched down so low you could see right through his pants and see everything.

Did you know..? that the NetHeads were originally a band of Roddick fans who started their career at the 2001 Davis Cup USA vs India where both Roddick and Blake made their DC debut? The originating NetHead members were college teammates of Andy's brother, John.

• It was obvious that Andy wasn't fully recovered from the hamstring injury; his serve lacked the usual punch and he wasn't running a lot of balls down. But he did run down the balls that would give him the break back in the first set. See? He's not really stupid.

But is F.Lo really that stupid? Why couldn't Lopez figure out after three sets that Bob Bryan would always serve out wide on the ad court?

Did you notice..? Some fans had complained in the past how, due to clothing contract obligations, our Davis Cup team does not wear an official DC outfit oncourt with their names printed on the back. As a result, there doesn't appear to be a coordinated style amongst the players that unifies them as a DC team. Well, whether this was done intentionally or not, I noticed at this DC that all four boys (Andy, James, and the twins) were wearing coodinated colors, albeit different style clothes, of white tops and blue shorts. Hurray, somebody finally made that call to Style Emergency.

• I've decided that 14,000 is the perfect size venue for a tennis match. There's lots of people and noise but it's still intimate without being too crazy. I walked up to the highest seats and you could still see the match and the players very well so there really wasn't a bad seat in the house.

• Was pleasantly surprised to see the house was still quite full during the dead rubber matches on the third day. Many of us thought that most of the fans would leave now that the USA had won but if there were any empty seats it was mostly up on the top level seats; the two lower levels were as packed as the first two days.

Mardy Fish has the best hair.

What the cameras didn't show you

• The heckler who got on Verdasco's nerves was a Spanish-speaking fan apparently annoyed by Nando's lousy playing.

Andy Roddick got into another trash-talking shouting match with one of the Spanish fans. I don't know about you but I like sassy Roddick.

• At one point Andy barked "Ball! Ball! Ball!" at a ballkid who had no balls to give him.

James Blake good naturedly making fun of F.Lo's pretty girlie hair.

• Somebody yelling "Let's go Andy!" during the Bob Bryan/Robredo match.

• After the first day when Spain lost the first two singles rubbers, one of the girls I sat with ran into Emilio Sanchez at the hotel bar and asked him what Plan B was going to be? Sanchez said, "We are going to bash their legs in like Tonya Harding." Har har.

• Roddick was not seen during the reverse singles matches. We surmised that he was either hung-over or was getting ass therapy.

Crowd control. Ever notice that players never make eye contact with the fans while playing? Well, at one point in an intense moment during the Verdasco match, Andy decided that the crowd wasn't loud enough for him, so he stopped and stared directly at each section of fans that he walked by, all of whom immediately jumped to their feet and screamed for him, waving signs and maracas and whatnot. It was like watching the wave: where ever Andy's eyes went, the crowd responded the way he wanted them to.

After the matches

• When the USA sealed their win on Day Two, the four boys posed for media photos. After a few minutes, as if all on cue, they all turned to Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey and gestured for them to join them in the next round of photos. It was a nice "awww" moment.

• After the matches, James, Andy, Bob, and Mike worked three corners of the court to sign autographs for quite a long while. Watching the kids chase them all down was funny; if they missed getting one player's autograph at one corner they would run through the stands to meet up with him at the next corner. The kids would yell across the court to one another bragging about their bounty, "I got Bob's! Who did you get?"

Can't get away from those damn Spaniards. I left my hotel at the same time Team Espana did. Took the elevator down with Emilio Sanchez who was obviously unhappy that they lost, but I tried to impart upon him that the Americans appreciated his efforts and his handsome team, especially. He thanked me and wished me a safe trip home.

The drive back home was much better (10 hrs instead of 15 and it flew by fast thanks to the scenic route through I-81) and I was quite proud of myself for driving all that way by myself. I made a lot of new friends who said they planned to attend the DC final if the US makes it that far. If it happens, I definitely want to attend that one but next time I'll take a plane.

The Afterglow

"US Has Best Shot at Cup" []
US NOW FAVORED TO WIN FIRST DC TITLE SINCE 1995: The US Davis Cup team, coming off its pounding of Spain, is correct in thinking this could be their year, especially after Sweden took down the Argentines 4-1. Certainly Sweden presents a very difficult match-up with the brilliant Mats Wilander at the helm and because they will be playing at home, where they have an amazing record. But the Nordic nation does not have any fine clay-court players and, on paper, the US is better situated in every contest: Andy Roddick being favored over Thomas Johansson, James Blake over Robin Soderling and the Bryan brothers over anyone that Jonas Bjorkman partners. Regardless of the surface – fast indoor, medium speed hard court or clay – the US holds a decided edge, because the Swedes prefer the hard stuff, too.

With that said, there are two factors cannot be discounted for the September tie: the US men will likely be a little tired post the US Open – where they usually fare well – and the home crowd advantage (especially if they play in Gothenburg) matters a great deal in Davis Cup. Those two factors alone could make the tie a pick-em.

With all that being said, major props to Blake for playing the best match of his Davis Cup career in trouncing the rapidly deflating Tommy Robredo, to Roddick for fighting through leg pain and the talented Fernando Verdasco, and for the Bryan brothers for closing the tie out in clutch fashion over Verdasco/Feliciano Lopez. Major, major props must also go to US Captain Patrick McEnroe, who showed a steady hand and mind in re-invigorating Blake with confidence, and made sure that Roddick didn't' get too amped up and re-injured himself.

A short review of the matches written by a fellow attendee, from TennisWorld:
Roddick and Verdasco were next up. Verdasco, ranked No. 35, is a terrific athlete but even from the upper reaches of the coliseum his swagger was obvious. But it wasn't wise to strut around in Roddick's face; it just made him angry, in his house, in front of his people. Verdasco played brilliantly in patches, He was up 5-3 in the opening set, but blew it with some sloppy, nervous play. It was like Roddick realized that Verdasco was cock-n-bull, and he never looked back after getting back on serve. Verdasco had 14 aces in the match, but Verdasco threw in ill-timed double faults and otherwise seemed to wilt when it most counted. Roddick seemed content to roam the backcourt, six to eight feet behind the baseline, a position that didn't allow him to make the most use of his forehand weapon, but clearly he didn't need it.

It was interesting, throughout the tie, to watch the teams' benches. Each player has quirks and a personal way of engagement - or disengagement. Watching Blake on Day One and the Bryans on Day Two, Roddick alternated between biting his cuticles and spacing out. Mardy Fish seemed to be always nudging his neighbor and showing him the latest text message on his iPod or BlackBerry. Feli Lopez was the epitome of cool, detachment - BTW, ladies, he seems less "handsome" than "pretty." As for the coaches: Spain’s Emilio Sanchez (yes, Aranxta’s older brother) was a constant presence for his players, always ready with a word of advice or strategy. In contrast, McEnroe was sedate, rarely offering much in the way of counsel. [. . .]

The Twin Towers, aka Bryan Brothers, are simply from another planet. The Bryans bounce in sync, leap around in sync, and even their switches and crosses seem to take place with telepathic understanding. They are freaks. I'm convinced that would beat any doubles team the ATP could put together. Bob Bryan, the lefty, may have the best volley in the game, bar none. Both Bryan men frequently jumped on opportunities to finish off points inches from the net. [. . .]

North Carolina tennis fans know their stuff, so they booed the chair umpire when he deserved it, and showed the visiting team respect by being seated and quiet when the ball was about to be put in play. It was a loud and enthusiastic crowd, but an attentive one. James Blake and Bob Bryan both were effusive in their appreciation of the home crowd, and made it clear they had rarely received such support. North Carolinians should be proud of the way they comported themselves.

Roddick finally catches a break in the mailbag this week:
Can we please give props to Roddick for making Davis Cup such a priority, while the world's top two players, Federer and Nadal, make pathetic excuses for not showing up for the event? Frankly, his royal highness, Roger, seems to not care remotely about Davis Cup. But, hey, it's Roger, right? So let's all get on our knees and say it's OK, while Nadal has basically blown it off to prepare for the clay-court season. Roddick is practicing with a sore hammy yet soldiers on because Davis Cup is a priority and not something he seems to think he's above. Thank you, Roddick.

For some reason the writer didn't sign this e-mail, but we wholeheartedly agree. A lot of you have issues with Roddick, but I don't see how even his harshest critics can overlook his commitment to Davis Cup.

"His Royal Highness, Roger"? Oh, that's good.

"This could be the year for America's Davis Cup team" [ESPN]
It's been 12 years since the U.S. won the Davis Cup -- an unsurpassed drought. While at one level this speaks more to the ascent of tennis nations, the inconvenient truth is that America's top players, Andy Roddick and James Blake, will likely be the first to admit they're not worldwide dominators in the manner of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and even Jim Courier. Roddick and Blake struggle with exceptional difficulty on clay. The team did well to win the first round on the dirt on the road against the Czech Republic, but invariably, whenever the the U.S. team hits the road, it can expect to play on clay more often than not.

But the ball took an odd bounce in the quarterfinals. Sweden's upset of Argentina means the U.S. will not have to travel to the red clay of Latin America for September's semifinal. The U.S. has a much better chance of beating the Swedes on any surface and reaching the final, where it will likely host defending champion Russia. A player-friendly surface and an impassioned hometown crowd could prove pivotal.

"It was unbelievable to have this atmosphere here," Blake said following last weekend's win over Spain in Winston-Salem, N.C. "The first day I said in my first press conference how much it meant to me to have those people cheering for me and to get me over this so-called slump, to give me the confidence."

The Drawback

"Roddick's Cup fervor proves costly" [Sun-Sentinel]
Andy Roddick is limping, his hamstring is swollen and he's going to be out up to three more weeks.

He'll announce, perhaps today, that he's withdrawing from Monte Carlo, which begins Monday. He'd already pulled out of this week's U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston, where he had a six-figure appearance fee guaranteed.

That money, estimated at $200,000, was his if he didn't play Davis Cup last week, but Roddick's decision to play against Spain says quite a lot about his commitment to winning the Cup for the United States for the first time in 12 years.

Click on the link to read the rest of the article.

Random Davis Cup Photos

From the press conference and during the Verdasco match.

Unrelated Random Photo

Taken from Andy's junior high yearbook. Loving the bangs!

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Originally posted April 4, 2007

Davis Cup: USA vs Spain

“Personally, I don’t know if you can play Davis Cup at your convenience. I think it’s a year-long commitment." — Andy Roddick, one of the few, if not the only, player who plays Davis Cup no matter what the circumstances.

I think it's awesome that Andy is so dedicated to Davis Cup. His enthusiasm is so contagious and a big part of why I enjoy watching Davis Cup so much. But if you are one of those fans who gets annoyed by his super-dedication to winning DC over winning perhaps some other more important titles then you wouldn't be alone. I've been seeing more and more comments by fans wondering when he's going to show as much enthusiasm and play as aggressively during masters and slams as he does on DC weekend. Have you ever noticed that Roddick rarely plays flat-footed or even badly at DC? Even when he loses he goes down swinging. Where was that fight and dog-bone determination at the Indian Wells semifinals a short while back? Just before that match with Rafael Nadal, one fan had mused, "Maybe he should go in thinking it's Davis Cup." She had a valid point. Another fan groused that she'd wish USA would win the damn Davis Cup already so that he could finally focus on winning Wimbledon(!) No, I'm not making these comments up and to be perfectly honest, I can completely understand their frustration. I think back to Roddick's valiant performance on clay in front of 27,000 screaming Spaniards at the 2004 Davis Cup final...and then I think of his dead-on-his-feet performance at 2007 Indian Wells, on the North American hardcourts, and you have to wonder what went first: the mind or the heart? *sigh*

I will be in Winston-Salem this weekend, cheering our boys on. Andy's bum is still injured and this concerns me. Not only for Andy's health but also because I have next-to-no-faith in neither James Blake or Mardy Fish coming through for us in the clutch (although Fish has done it once before). If anybody on the USA team is going to play the hero this weekend, now would be a good time for either one of these guys to finally step up and do it. Perhaps James Blake will finally win a clutch five-set match. I've love to see it. C'mon!

Enjoy the matches, everybody!

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