The U.S. is drawn to play at Chile in the first round of Davis Cup World Group play next March, a job that isn't as daunting as it may appear, given that the Chilean star, former Australian Open runner-up Fernando Gonzalez, is facing hip surgery that could sideline him for almost a year.
The more intriguing question is: Who will be sitting in the captain's chair when the U.S. travels to South America for the second time in as many ties? Here's a rundown of the main contenders, with their personal Davis Cup statistics and their pluses and minuses.
Jim Courier (16-10 in singles, 1-0 in doubles; played in 14 ties and on two Cup-winning squad, in 1992 and 1995): He's the front-runner, by a good bit, and it's no wonder: He has that high name recognition that USTA honchos like, an excellent personal record in Davis Cup play and he wants the job.
However, John McEnroe remains a cautionary tale for all celebrity captains (his brief stint was spectacularly unsuccessful), and the question remains: Is Courier too big a personality and/or too independent-minded to strike that ideal combination of leader and self-submerging mentor?
The job description calls for a lot of petty detail work and considerable interpersonal skills. It works in Courier's favor that, with the exception of Andy Roddick (who may play again), none of the American singles candidates is a Grand Slam winner or international star. That gives the four-time Grand Slam singles champ plenty of heft.
Todd Martin (11-8, 5-6, 18 ties and played doubles on team that won it all in 1995): Todd was known as a model team player, willing to play whatever role he was assigned. He's a good scout, so he'll be patient with the more irritating "official" duties of the captain; you can't ask for a better ambassador-cum-captain.
Martin's biggest drawback is his quiet, understated and understanding manner. The ideal captain is made of both fire and ice, and whether Martin has a sufficiently authoritative manner and the ability to fire up a team is a legitimate question.
Brad Gilbert (10-5 in singles, eight ties, never played on a team that won the championship): Gilbert wants the job, and in typical Gilbert fashion, he's let everybody and his brother know it. If a guy got points for voluble enthusiasm, he'd be a lock.
Gilbert is great on the X's and O's, and he'll have no trouble jumping up on a chair in a locker room and calling for the heads of his opponents. Plus, as a broadcaster for ESPN, he's bound to make sure the Davis Cup effort is publicized.
But some people are turned off by his brash manner and hyperactive personality. The USTA is a pretty conservative outfit, and you get the sense that Gilbert is too much of a loose cannon for the organization's taste.
MaliVai Washington (3-2 in singles in three ties, never a winner): Apparently, Washington has thrown his hat in the ring, and it's hard to imagine the USTA picking it up and putting it on. Mal is an aloof sort, and despite some minor broadcasting assignments, he's been off the radar and out of the trenches of the game for over a decade. He has no shot.
Jay Berger (2-0 in singles in two ties, never won): His perfect if meager record includes a critical singles win over Jaime Yzaga in Peru, a five-setter in the zonal play semifinals that helped put the U.S. back into the World Group. That tells you a lot about Berger, who was known as an outstanding if often outgunned competitor.
Berger has been the official Davis Cup coach under outgoing captain Pat McEnroe, and he's McEnroe's right-hand man in player development. The players love him. "Jay has been invaluable," McEnroe says. "Our Davis Cup effort and player development work hand-in-hand, and Jay has to get tremendous credit for how well it's worked out."
No field of contenders is complete without an outstanding long shot. Berger is that long shot.