Youth, veterans blend well on U.S. team

Monday, February 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The young players on the U.S. Davis Cup team rewarded captain Patrick McEnroe for his faith in them.

McEnroe put Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish in the lineup along with veteran Pete Sampras, and the team responded with a 5-0 victory over Slovakia in a first-round series that concluded Sunday.

Although Slovakia was short-handed because its top two players _ Karol Kucera and Dominik Hrbaty _ did not play due to injuries, McEnroe was thrilled with the first U.S. sweep since 1996 against Mexico.

``I think winning 5-0 certainly makes a statement that we are back in a big way and that we have plans on winning it,'' he said. ``I think we have a good chance to do that this year.''

Roddick, just 19, won both his singles matches here to improve to 5-0 in Davis Cup. Blake, 22, is 4-0 after winning in doubles on Saturday and a singles match Sunday. The 20-year-old Fish, in his Davis Cup debut, paired with Blake to help the United States end a five-match losing streak in doubles.

All three spoke throughout the week of their love of Davis Cup.

``The atmosphere is unlike anything else and it's above any win you could possibly have in any tournament, I would think,'' Fish said.

Sampras said he wanted to play Davis Cup this year in part to help his play on tour, where he failed to win any tournaments last year. He seemed to enjoy this group, and even stuck around to watch Sunday's meaningless singles matches.

The camaraderie was apparent Sunday when Roddick jumped to put away an overhand smash, then turned and pointed at Sampras, who had made a similar shot Friday.

``They've got a lot of energy,'' Sampras said of the younger set. ``They're watching `The Simpsons' at night and I'm with Todd Martin watching 'On Golden Pond.'

``In practices they come out firing away and it just inspires you, inspires me to try to beat these young guys in practice. So in a way it has been fun.''

Jim Courier, who is assisting McEnroe as coach, said Sampras' practices last week were as intense as he had ever seen. Blake said he and other young players can learn from the way Sampras prepared himself.

``All the young guys can get better at that and learn from him,'' Blake said.

Martin, 31, was part of the five-member team that came to Oklahoma City, but was kept out of the lineup for the second straight time.

McEnroe opted for this series not to use a doubles team, saying he wanted players who were versatile enough to play both. The way Fish and James played doubles, he said, ``was a big boost to them and a big boost to me and my confidence.''

Next up for the United States is Spain, which beat Morocco 3-2. Spain beat the United States 5-0 in the semifinals in 2000, on a clay court in Santander, Spain.

McEnroe watched that series as a television analyst. Roddick was playing junior tennis at the time; Blake and Fish didn't play in that series.

``It's different but we remember it,'' McEnroe said. ``It's not that long ago, and we'd like to get them back and we'd like to move on. They are great competitors. They have guys that can play.''

The second-round series will be played April 5-7 in the United States, with the site and playing surface to be determined.

``We are going to do everything we can to make it work against them,'' McEnroe said. ``Certainly having the players helps. You've got to have the horses and we have got the horses. We're going to keep them healthy, hopefully, and we are going to try to do to them what they did to us.''