Todd Martin

Captain Jim Courier, John Isner, Andy Roddick, and the Bryans (above, from left to right).

This weekend Andy Roddick finished what he started in impressive fashion, thumping the 2004 double Olympic gold medalist Nicholas Massu on Friday, and then clinched the tie early Sunday with a come from behind four set win against world #165 Paul Capdeville on a very impressive slow red clay court in Santiago, Chile.  Roddick, widely panned for his clay court prowess, was broken exactly once in each match.  That’s not to say he played dominant first strike tennis.  Roddick, who has grown tremendously as a player on clay and as a guy who thinks a match out–2 of his lesser abilities historically–showed off both skills on Sunday.  After dropping the 1st set to Capdeville on grotesque and horribly slow red clay that groundskeepers watered on changeovers, Justin Gimelstob, who The Tennis Channel was too cheap to send to Santiago, said from an LA studio (so low grade!) that Roddick had let his opponent grow too comfortable and would have to change his tactics.  Such a pronouncement 3 or 4 years ago would not have sat too well with the close Roddick observer.

First time captain Jim Courier did not bat an eyelash.  In fact, the proven winner and distinguished major champion, showed nothing but calm the entire weekend, even when Roddick’s opponent Capdeville, in his match Friday versus Isner, seemed to at worst cheat and at best display questionable sportsmanship at a critical stage of the fifth set on a break point which he lost.  Isner hit a winner from the back of the court which Capdeville did not play, claiming he heard an out call.  Right.  We were extremely annoyed.  It was a classless move on the part of the Chilean, an obvious ploy that we’ve seen tried on occasion by the desperate, but which we can’t really recall a big league chair buying.  Enter Friday’s clown show.  The chair called the ball a let, and Isner who couldn’t buy a break point all match, literally, until that point, didn’t get another.  Gimelstob once again provided the dead on commentary, reading our minds by taking the poor returning Isner to task.  G-Stob called Isner’s return game a glaring weakness, noting that the big man could not cry about calls when he generated so few opportunities for himself.  About 1 game letter, Isner began to cramp, and once his legs had tightened up, he was basically done, but he did manage 4 holds in the decisive 5th set, and with the stolen break, would’ve won the match.  In fairness to Isner, the kid shows tremendous promise, has steadily improved since taking the tour by storm out of the NCAA’s, and is the American who most deserves the Davis Cup Singles B role.  Unlike Sam Querrey, Isner shows excellent killer instinct, a volleyer’s touch, and doesn’t shrink from big moments.  Isner has had several breakthrough wins while Samurai Sam has yet to notch any of note, especially at the majors.  America’s only other option, world #15 Mardy Fish, is also someone we aren’t comfortable seeing in James Blake’s B role.  Fish is a very bad big match player.  If he was ever going to beat a Chilean in the big spot, it would have been at the 2004 Olympics where Massu bested a then chubby Mardy for the gold.  We don’t put a lot of stock in Olympic tennis for the sake of its actual tennis importance, but as an American sports fan, we don’t give Fish the option to lose to a Nicholas Massu with gold on the line.

Back to Roddick, who stayed level throughout a tense second set that really was a must win for both guys.  Roddick blew a late break chance, shook that off, went into the breaker and then blitzed Capdeville, getting out to a 5-0 lead which carried him to the set win.  It was all down hill from there.  Roddick dominated the last two sets in uncharacteristic fashion.  He had managed only one ace through 3 sets.  Roddick, who tends to play a passive style too much these days, was on the ‘perfect’ surface for it.  He gave up the net and counter punched to perfection, hitting more winners off of his usually defective backhand wing in one match than we can otherwise recollect.

Roddick has long been due a re-appraisal by the stubborn Andy-can’t-play-on-clay faction.  He’s come through plenty of times for America on the dirt, and more times than any other American in the storied history of Davis Cup, now having clinched 12 ties (5 on the road).  And Roddick has played several fine matches at Roland Garros in the last 2 years, making the round of 16 in ’09, which is something many doubted he’d ever do.  In our opinion, Roddick might be the best player of all time who has only won 1 major, and had a guy named Roger Federer never came around, Andy would probably have several major titles.  Losing 4 major finals to Roger Federer is nothing to be embarrassed about.  Roddick is one of few guys to ever have been #1, to have won a major, a Davis Cup title, and to have been in the top 5 for 5 consecutive years.  And unlike Roger, Roddick always seems to turn out for country. 

You all know of our devotion to Federer, but you should also know we try to tell it as we see it.  It doesn’t sit well with us that Federer abandoned his country’s Davis Cup squad.  We know his arguments, and we understand them.  He needs to pick and choose, he can’t risk too much exposure in a non major setting…we get it.  But Nadal can?  A frequently hobbled Nadal usually doesn’t duck Davis Cup, and to his credit, he has a championship to show for it, as does Roddick.  Federer doesn’t take Davis Cup calls from Severin Luthi, one of his own coaches, and while the rest of the men’s tennis world is sliding around on disgusting mud courts, Federer is hob nobbing with Pete Sampras and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles (below). 

Again, we get it.  Federer is the all time mens singles major champion with the Swiss flag behind him, so what does it matter that he doesn’t have a DC title?  A tennis purist would say it does matter some.  There is no definitive greatest player of all time, and everyone from Borg to McEnroe, Sampras, and Nadal have won the DC, and in most cases, had at least one title they were the impetus behind.  The only greats we can think of that have not won the Davis Cup are the ultra selfish and loutish Jimmy Connors, and Federer.

Perhaps Federer, like Connors did, will feel the hole in his immortal resume, and come back to Davis Cup in his twilight years.  And unlike Connors, Federer is great enough to pull off such a thing and win a late DC title, maybe even into his early 30’s.  Maybe Federer has lost a bit of his ‘major edge’ because he isn’t as tested in Davis Cup lately and in the best of 5 set format as the last 3 guys who have beaten him at majors, Soderling, Berdych, and Djokovic.  As for the other Jimbo, our new skip, Jim Courier, we are ecstatic to have him (especially over the hack that is Todd Martin), and he must be ecstatic that Roddick takes his calls.   Let’s face it.  Courier is a winner.  He’s been there and done that.  Chile in a mud storm in front of the worst tennis fans this side of France while getting potentially tie deciding bad calls does not phase him in the least.  Not only does Courier play the same style, more or less, as the top American singles players, but he was a better player than all of these guys, and has greater insights about top tier tennis than the former DC coach, Patrick McEnroe, who had less talent than Courier, less desire, a lesser work ethic, less athletic ability, and we think, a lesser mind for the game in general.  We think it’s not a coincidence that the national junior program is foundering with PMac at the helm.

Next up for the US squad will be Spain in the quarters, about one week after Wimbledon concludes.  Before anyone gets around to anointing Spain, let’s all keep squarely in mind that home countries have an enormous advantage in Davis Cup.  In Courier’s first home tie as captain, he will decide the venue and the surface which as yet, is unannounced.  The surface is sure to be a fast hardcourt, and though there might be attendance concerns, in a play from the British play book, we think it would be very wise to consider Flushing Meadows for the tie, the way that Britain tries to play their ties on Wimbledon’s centre court.  America always chooses hards, and for a few years now, have only had the pick off-season, choosing slick indoor surfaces in Baltimore, Birmingham, and Austin.  You can’t really play this thing indoors in July.  Should the Americans opt for a more intimate setting, we think Cincinnati would be perfect.  The Cincinnati Masters Series has long been considered the fastest outdoor tournament in the world.  We can think of no recent Spaniard who’s had any success there. 

Also, we love the dynamic created by forcing the Spaniards to play on fast hards in the shadow of Wimbledon, especially if Nadal goes deep at SW-19.  In fact, we can hear Nadal crying about the turn around and surface switch from here.  Don’t be surprised if he asks out.  If he doesn’t, we look forward to seeing him finally clash with Roddick on a fast hardcourt, and we like our other guys as well versus the Spaniards on the hards with stars and stripes flying.

Crack (,

Jim Courier hoists the French Open Men’s Championship trophy (above).

Inside Tennis and The Tennis Channel are both reporting that former world # 1 and 4 time major singles champion Jim Courier will succeed Patrick McEnroe as America’s Davis Cup Captain, having beaten out Todd Martin and Brad Gilbert for the post.

Reliable sources indicate that Jim Courier — who heads a short list of candidates that includes Todd Martin and Brad Gilbert — will replace Patrick McEnroe as the next captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team.The 40-year-old former No. 1-turned broadcaster was quick to put his name in the hat following McEnroe’s resignation at the U.S. Open, saying, “Davis Cup means the world to me.  And at some point in my life I certainly hope to have that seat.  I’m definitely interested in the job, so hopefully they’ll give me a call and we’ll chat about it.”

Courier, who went a combined 17-10 in Davis Cup play in the ’90s, lost both his matches against Russia during America’s victorious run to the World Group title in Moscow in ‘95, but played the role of hero in ‘99 in Birmingham, England, where he posted a pair of dramatic five-set victories in lifting the U.S. to 3-2 victory over Great Britain. In one of the greatest post-tie celebrations, U.S. coach Tom Gullikson rolled around on the court hugging Courier, then single-handedly carried him around on his shoulders.

We applaud this decision, especially when considering the alternatives.  Courier, a Floridian who now lives in the city, has been our pick since we learned who the candidates were.  Todd Martin’s poor run with Novak Djokovic’s coaching team which destabilized the world # 2, set the young Serb back markedly.  Martin was brought in to help the Djoker improve his serve, but in tinkering with Djokovic’s service motion, things went awry.  Djokovic, whose serve was once considered a strength of his game, only began to regain his serving edge late this summer, months after Martin had already been dispatched.

Aside from his short tenure with Djokovic, Martin has little experience working with elite players.  While the same could be said of Courier, who has settled in as an announcer, at one time for USA Network and currently for ESPN, we have no doubts that Courier will have the player’s attention on the American team.  Courier, once upon a time, helped dispell the myth that Americans could not win on clay by winning back to French Open titles in 1991 and 1992, famoulsy upsetting rival Andre Agassi in the ’91 final.

Courier, a work ethic player with a big serve and forehand, was a guy willing to grind out, but who could also win free points and end points off either wing and at the net.  In 1992, Courier won 2 major titles, and Courier made two major finals in each of the years 1991, 1992, and 1993.  Courier, coached to his greatest successes by Spaniard Jose Higueras, who had short stints coaching both Sampras and Federer as well, may pick Higueras’ brain frequently on Davis Cup matters, considering that Higueras is now one of the USTA’s top coaches.

Courier once said that he was so determined to adapt to clay that he would practice on the surface for between 9 and 11 hours a day leading up to Roland Garros.  That’s the attitude that the American squad needs.  Young Americans Sam Querrey and John Isner would both seem to benefit greatly by Courier’s hire, as in all likelihood, they will be playing a lot of singles in Davis Cup over the next few years.  The entire American stable of players would likely benefit, including impressive young Texan Ryan Harrison and rising American Mardy Fish, who all play styles similar to Courier’s.

Brad Gilbert was apparently also in the running for the job, and we are ecstatic that he doesn’t seem to be in line for the coveted spot.  Gilbert, admittedly a “pusher”, or grinder, is uncomplicated as a coach, and has clashed with his last two big ticket clients, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.  His coaching style consists of imploring his players to just get it back, and many have griped at the emphasis Gilbert places on weight training.  Gilbert likes to say that players should only come to the net “on their terms”, which produces a very boring style of baseline tennis that encourages passive play.  That’s not the American style of play and is not a style best suited to American hardcourts.

In other quality tennis news, Rafael Nadal finally lost.  Fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez bested the world’s undisputed # 1, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 2 hours and 45 minutes in the semis of the PTT Open in Thailand.


Crack (,

Patrick McEnroe ended a 10 year run as the United States Davis Cup Captain when he announced that he resigned the position, one also briefly held by brother John McEnroe, late last week.  In 2007, McEnroe guided the team to its first Davis Cup Championship since 1995 when the team boasted a roster that included Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Todd Martin.  McEnroe’s roster was a lot less star studded than the all-time great Davis Cup team that Tim Gullickson rolled out in 1995.

Patrick McEnroe, citing a desire to increase his busy workload with the United States Junior Developmental Program, which he directs, steps away from the job having captained the United States 32nd Davis Cup Title with Andy Roddick playing first singles, James Blake playing the reverse singles, and the Bryans playing doubles.  Having the Bryans anchor the team was huge for McEnroe strategically, as PMac could usually bank on one win right there.  Then, between Roddick and Blake, he needed 2 wins in 4 matches to take the tie.  It was a solid blueprint for the Americans who faced Spain, but who did not have to face Rafael Nadal, and who lost only 4 matches in their 4 ties in 2007.

Russia, the United States’ finals opponent, though formidable on paper, were no match for the Americans on a very fast indoor surface that McEnroe had tailored to Roddick’s game–now a frequent consideration in determining surface.  In Davis Cup, home teams have pick of surface.  Roddick, one of the best Davis Cup singles players in this era, benefitted greatly from the McEnroe regime, and even turned to McEnroe for help when he was between coaches, having yet to hire Larry Stefanki after firing Jimmy Connors.  In fact, McEnroe talked about the importance of getting players to want to play first singles to being a DC Captain, and he most certainly did cultivate that quality in Andy Roddick, who happens to be one of the few players in the history of the game to have won a major, won the Davis Cup, been number one in the world, and been a top 5 player consecutively for 5 straight years.

“No regrets. It was a great run,” McEnroe said. “Obviously I wish we could’ve won more. But I wanted to accomplish a couple of things when I took over, which was obviously to get the players that were passionate about playing, No. 1, molded into a team, give us a chance to be competitive every year.”

McEnroe also inspired hope with the mention of the possibility of a replacement:

McEnroe mentioned Jim Courier and Todd Martin as obvious candidates for the position. Courier, a four-time major champion, said while calling the U.S. Open for CBS on Monday that he’d be interested.

We wouldn’t go gaga over Todd Martin at all, but Jim Courier, a 4 time major champion, would be an excellent replacement as DC Captain.  Courier, an outspoken tennis analyst, won the French Open in consecutive years, and is probably the best American clay courter in the modern era.  Courier’s style–a demanding physical game accompanied by big serving and big groundstrokes–is one we could see American Sam Querrey playing quite nicely.  Courier, a tennis warrior, would probably be an excellent influence on the players going to Colombia to play DC next week (Querrey, Isner, Fish, Harrison).  Let’s face it: Patrick McEnroe may have been a good captain, but he didn’t have the success in singles that Courier did.  While McEnroe was described by Mardy Fish as “brutally honest” when it came to the Captain critiquing his game, I would think brutally honest is a lot more intense coming from the fiery Courier (below), who also won 2 Australian Opens on hardcourts, and who did better than expected in losing a Wimbledon final to Pete Sampras way back when.

Courier talks about the Americans aversion to clay, and says he played mostly on hards as a youth but overcame his lack of familiarity with clay by practicing relentlessly on the surface.  Imagine James Blake doing that?  He’d never show that type of will, but he would be served by hitting with the Davis Cup team and getting the benefit of Courier’s honesty.  The very impressive Ryan Harrison, should he apply the Courier formula to clay, we could see having big success and excellent results there.

Todd Martin, on the other hand, had a very strange and brief tour as a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team, along with primary coach Marian Vajda, volley coach Mark Woodforde, and sometimes co-volley coach, John McEnroe, who has worked with Djokovic on several occasions.  Martin was brought in to beef up Djokovic’s waffling serve–once a strength–but seemed to make the shot worse until Martin’s tense divorce from Djokovic’s camp.

Frankly, Martin is not a major champion and seemed to do a very poor job of coaching Djokovic, while Courier is an excellent champion who has always been a blunt but informed tennis analyst.  While McEnroe, a top 30 player in his day, walks away with a Davis Cup Championship, it will always be his brother John more readily associated with the Davis Cup for winning 5 as a player, winning the most singles matches in DC history (41-8), and the most total matches (59-10).


Crack (,