Agassi, Sampras and McEnroe together again

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe are together on the same Davis Cup team for the first time since winning the title in 1992.

Only this time McEnroe is in charge.

The 41-year-old is calling the shots as non-playing captain of a team that faces the Czech Republic this weekend on a hardcourt at the Forum, in Inglewood, California, which is the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Assoication.

"We're going to try to be the Lakers this week," McEnroe said.

The best-of-five series begins on Friday with two singles matches. Agassi and Sampras will play singles against Czechs Slava Dosedel and Jiri Novak. The Americans have a combined Davis Cup singles record of 41-11, compared to Dosedel's and Novak's combined mark of 8-7.

"I'm going in thinking we're going to win all the matches," McEnroe said.

But he still has a few worries.

Agassi injured his right ankle last week in the quarterfinals of the Ericsson Open and it clearly bothered him in a semi-final loss to Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten that left him hobbling.

A visibly tired Sampras needed more than three hours to beat Kuerten in the final. He had little time to rest before flying to Los Angeles and practicing Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Andre told me not to worry, but that's part of the job. Pete is feeling some aches and pains," McEnroe said.

But don't expect McEnroe to be the sort of pushy, perfectionist captain that he was as a player who won four US Open and three Wimbledon titles.

"Pete's not going to want to come out and lose in LA at the Forum, and neither is Andre, but they know themselves better than I know them," McEnroe said. "Am I going to say, 'Hey, you've really got to practice.' I'm not going to say that."

McEnroe and Sampras patched up their differences after Sampras missed the first-round victory over Zimbabwe with a hip injury he sustained at the Australian Open.

McEnroe had questioned Sampras' commitment to the Davis Cup.

Sampras has never been the diehard supporter of Davis Cup that McEnroe was when he ruled tennis as the No 1 player during the early '80s. Instead, Sampras focused on retaining his top ranking for six consecutive years.

Now, his priorities have changed.

"I rearranged my whole schedule to play Davis Cup this year," Sampras said. "I have done just about everything and Davis Cup is something that will be more of a priority this year. I want to play and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Sampras welcomes the extra interest created by having McEnroe as captain.

"That is the one thing that has been missing over the years is the attention, and certainly John brings a lot to it," he said.

In '92, McEnroe and Sampras beat Marc Rosset and Jakob Hlasek in a five-set doubles match as the United States defeated Switzerland 3-1 to win the Cup.

Agassi won his singles match, McEnroe and Sampras only played doubles, while Jim Courier, the other member, split his singles matches.

It was McEnroe's final match of a 12-year Davis Cup career that included five titles and the record for most U.S. singles victories with 41.

"I felt quite possibly it was the greatest team that had ever been put together by an American squad," he said. "I knew it was something special. For me, it was a very emotional time."

At that time, McEnroe was in the process of divorcing his first wife, actress Tatum O'Neal, with whom he has three children.

"I felt like my whole family - my children, friends, the team, the people that came to the match - rallied around me. Otherwise, I didn't think I would have been able to make it through," he said. "I just wasn't really up to playing."

But he and Sampras are happy to be on familiar ground at the Forum.

Sampras is a Los Angeles native, who first played at the Forum as a 16-year-old. McEnroe, a native New Yorker with a second home here, played exhibitions at the Forum and was a regular at Lakers games in the '80s.

In other Davis Cup quarterfinals this weekend, Australia plays host to Germany in Adelaide; Spain is at home to Russia; and Brazil welcomes the Slovak Republic.

The Australians will be without Mark Philippoussis, who has a strained calf muscle, while the Germans lost Tommy Haas to a hip injury.