Soft launch a chance for U.S. team to jell

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
8:04
PM ET


Every red-blooded American wants to spend Sunday gorging on junk food and watching the Super Bowl, right? That means that Team USA has all the incentive it needs to sweep Brazil 3-0 in this weekend's first round of Davis Cup World Group play, ensuring that the American boys are free to think "Niners or Ravens?" on Sunday. And the U.S. is hosting the tie on its preferred indoor hard court, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Should the team want further motivation against a visiting squad boasting only one player ranked inside the top 140 (Brazil's ultra-talented but mentally weak No. 1 is 36th-ranked Thomaz Bellucci), it might discover it in a commitment to finally making this the "next generation" squad for the U.S. -- the group that makes everyone forget stalwarts Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish.

You may remember that we've been here before. The aforementioned trio was unavailable for differing reasons when the U.S. traveled to Serbia to face a quality squad led by Novak Djokovic in the first round in 2010. It was the debut of John Isner and Sam Querrey as the obvious heirs apparent to the one-two punch of Roddick and Blake. The Twin Towers acquitted themselves well but lost on red clay to the Serbs, 3-2. (The Serbs clinched it 3-1 with the fourth-rubber battle of No. 1s Djokovic and Isner.)

The theoretical changing of the guard didn't happen. Fish stepped back into the breach, and the irrepressible Roddick also returned to the Davis Cup fold. Following an outstanding 2010, Querrey had serious injury problems in 2011. Isner and Querrey, good friends as well as rivals, didn't play on a Davis Cup squad together again until last year's semifinal loss to Spain. Once again, they had to play a legitimate tennis power, at its joint, on clay. Once again, they lost.

Thus, this home tie gives the Yanks a great opportunity to hit the reset button and determine just how well they are able to jell under favorable circumstances. The prognosis is pretty good: Although Isner had to miss the Australian Open with a knee injury, he'll be fresh if not exactly match tough. Meanwhile, Querrey has been diligently playing his way back into shape; he's in the top 20 again and in a playing groove, just four places behind No. 16 Isner.

Isner has made great strides as a Davis Cup performer after that first partnership with Querrey in Serbia. Last year, he improbably upset Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in away ties on clay. Now that Roddick has retired, this could become Isner's team. At 27, he's two years older than Querrey, who has had his hands full dealing with injury and the trials of returning to the upper echelon. The chemistry between Isner and Querrey is likely to be different from what it was when they were close friends and nominal rookies. But there's no reason they couldn't resume their Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid routine.

In some ways, this tie is a godsend. Nobody knows that better than U.S. captain Jim Courier. It's unlikely that Brazil can upend the U.S. on its home turf, even though this American squad is clearly in transition. It has talent in abundance, starting with the rock-solid doubles team of Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, who at the Australian Open became the most successful doubles squad in Grand Slam history. But Team USA also needs to develop an identity, along with a long shadow.

With the best doubles team in the world, two top-20 singles players and an experienced, all-business captain in Courier, the U.S. ought to contend for the Cup. But because it doesn't feature a top-five type of player or Grand Slam singles champion, winning the entire shooting match probably will require something extra, a bit of that intangible "magic."

It may all come down to chemistry, and the experiment is about to begin in a lab called the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. With any luck, Team USA will close out the Brazilians on Saturday and be able to focus on the Super Bowl on a stress-free Sunday afternoon, just like the rest of us.

Peter Bodo has been covering tennis for more than 30 years, most of them with TENNIS.com and TENNIS Magazine, where he is a senior editor and author of the popular blog, Peter Bodo's TennisWorld. A two-time WTA writer of the year, Bodo has also written numerous books, including Tennis For Dummies (with U.S. Davis Cup captain, Patrick McEnroe).

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