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12 January 2011

Captain challenge excites Courier


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Jim Courier (USA)

Jim Courier is a man on a mission since being named as USA’s new Davis Cup captain, taking charge after the long-serving Patrick McEnroe ended his decade at the helm last year.

Courier wants to lift the Davis Cup trophy, plain and simple, just as he did as a player on two occasions, and he is already planning and plotting to make sure the Americans mount a serious challenge in 2011.

“I took the opportunity in December to travel around the United States and get a chance to visit with our players when they were training in the off‑season,” he said, talking ahead of setting off to Melbourne to assume his usual role with host broadcaster Channel 7 at the Australian Open.

“I got to go to Los Angeles, spend some time with Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish, and Donald Young Jr. out in Carson. I went down to Tampa where John Isner and Mike Bryan were. Bob, fortunately for him, was away on his honeymoon, having just been married.

“I got to Austin, Texas, to see Andy Roddick and John Harrison, who was practicing with Andy the day I was there. I got to see those guys in a lower‑pressure environment and spend some time with them and just try and establish those working relationships with the players I know a little bit less.

“Obviously, I've developed relationships with guys that have been on the tour a little bit longer, just being around the circuit, but with the younger players, in particular Ryan and Donald, I’m trying to establish those relationships in hopes that those guys will be a part of the team here before too long.”

Courier, a former world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion, certainly knows what it takes to be successful in Davis Cup, having been a member of USA’s title-winning teams in 1992 and 1995. Overall, he played in 14 ties and compiled a 17-10 record during an eight-year spell in the side.

Looking ahead to this season’s campaign, Courier believes the team’s strength in depth could be the key, with four players currently ranked inside the Top 20 alongside the world’s No. 1 ranked doubles team.

“The way I positioned it with the players so far is that as we come into 2011, we're really looking at a six‑man team right now. I know that only four can play at any given tie, but when you have the world's No. 1 doubles team in the Bryans and four Top 20 singles players, you have a lot of weapons at your disposal.

“There's a lot of variables and variety that can be used to reach the ultimate goal, which everyone fortunately is on the same page, which we want to lift that trophy, and we want to lift it sooner than later. Everyone understands that the four players get to play, but they also get that there's that big goal at the end of the season. That's the camaraderie these guys have shown in the last decade.

“There's been a real selflessness by the team by and large, certainly since my era when we had difficulty getting players wanting to play. Now it's at the other end of the spectrum, which everyone wants to play. You have to make some tough choices. That's my job to do. It's my job to keep everyone involved in the team even if they're not playing.

“Having said that, regarding the six players on the team, if something were to happen in a Donald or Ryan or any other American player were to break through, we'd make room for them, too. The goal is to lift the trophy, period.  That's what we're focused on.”

In March, USA faces a tricky trip to Santiago to open its 2011 account against Chile in the World Group first round, travelling with an unbeaten record against the South American hosts. The tie is being played on clay, but Courier's men will still be overwhelming favourites to progress after the news that Chilean No. 1 Fernando Gonzalez remains sidelined with a long-term hip injury.

“Fernando is a terrific player and a terrific human being. He did so much for Chile last year in the wake of the disaster down there. It's a real shame and a real disappointment for us as a team that we won't be able to face him because you want to face the best players possible and take on the biggest challenge.

“But we know we're going to have a difficult match, whoever is playing, whether it's Nicolas Massu, Paul Capdeville, Jorge Aguilar, whoever is chosen to play for the squad will play with passion no doubt.

“Nicolas is a very dangerous player. We're not concerned with his ranking.  We're not concerned with anything other than taking him on and expecting the best from him. We've certainly seen great tennis from him over the years.

“In a situation like Davis Cup, particularly a home tie, players can really perform at their absolute best. His absolute best has been extremely, extremely good. So we'll be ready to see him come with all guns blazing.

“All of us who have ever played in Davis Cup matches away understand that nothing can be taken for granted and you have to bring your best team and tennis to win. There will be nothing but respect and our best tennis when we come down to Santiago in March.

“I think surface is always a factor. It's one of the great things about the format of Davis Cup as it currently stands, is that the home squad gets to tailor that surface to their team. It presents a challenge for the opposing squad.

“Our players, while not as comfortable on clay perhaps as the Chileans by nature, are still quite good on clay and still accomplished on the surface. I feel confident that we'll have a team that will be very competitive down there.”

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