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U.S. Davis Cup team continues winning

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2002

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Patrick McEnroe's decision to mix youth with experience paid off in a first-round Davis Cup sweep of Slovakia, and might make his work a bit easier as he prepares for the second round.

The U.S. team was led by veteran Pete Sampras, who said he plans to play Davis Cup all year. Sampras was joined by 19-year-old Andy Roddick, 22-year-old James Blake and 20-year-old Mardy Fish.

Roddick was playing in just his third Davis Cup series, while it was the second for Blake and first for Fish.

After Sampras and Roddick won their singles matches Friday, Blake and Fish clinched the series by winning their doubles match Saturday. That ended a five-match losing streak in doubles for the United States and made a solid impression on the team captain.

''I'm not making any predictions or anything about the future, about who is going to play or what,'' McEnroe said. ''But obviously the way these guys played was a big statement.''

The United States closed out the sweep Sunday with Blake and Roddick winning their singles matches.

Slovakia was short-handed because its top two players, Karol Kucera and Dominik Hrbaty, pulled out with injuries. But the 5-0 victory -- the first for the United States since 1996 against Mexico -- has the U.S. team upbeat.

''I am real happy with the way the guys played and competed,'' McEnroe said after Saturday's doubles victory. ''We've got the players. We keep these guys healthy and motivated and wanting to play, then we are going to be fine.''

The second round will be played in April against Spain, at a site in the United States to be determined.

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 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.''

He said it's too soon to settle on the team for the second round, but also said Blake and Fish clearly helped their chances.

''These guys have made a statement by the way they played, by the way they handled themselves all week,'' McEnroe said. ''I will feel a lot more comfortable putting them in the next time, let's put it that way.''



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