McEnroe dusts off his racket to play Davis Cup

In those moments when John McEnroe strikes a devilishly angled serve and a sweet drop volley, it is almost possible to imagine he really can muster some magic to rescue his depleted Davis Cup troops.

In those moments when John McEnroe strikes a devilishly angled serve and a sweet drop volley, it is almost possible to imagine he really can muster some magic to rescue his depleted Davis Cup troops.

Ignore his gray hair, pushed back by a green bandanna. Overlook his sunken chest and skinny arms and untoned legs. Forget that he's 41 and that it's been eight years since he last played a Davis Cup match, and six years since he last played any men's doubles, except for batting around balls on what he affectionately calls "the dinosaur tour."

It's easy to see, as the bathing suit-clad fans applaud him at practice for this weekend's semifinal against Spain, that he still has something special. He still shouts at himself or fumes in silence when he misses a shot, still drops his racket in disgust at times and kicks the clay.

They used to say the best doubles team in the world was John McEnroe and anybody else, and when he now occasionally makes those sublime shots with his artistry of old, the thought, or perhaps the wish, slips in that maybe it's still true.

Trouble is, a Davis Cup match is more than just a few moments in the sun. It's the best-of-five sets, two, three, four hours in the lung-scalding heat. And against Spain, in this resort town near Bilbao, it's on a red clay that never was much to McEnroe's liking.

Yet McEnroe, the captain of a U.S. squad abandoned by Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and rejected by Michael Chang, sounds as if he's leaning toward throwing himself into the fray.

"I don't look at us being wiped out here," said McEnroe, in the face of what he acknowledges are overwhelming odds against his team. "I think Spain has underachieved for 20 years. I'm sure they're going to be feeling the heat."

Todd Martin and Jan-Michael Gambill will play the singles matches on Friday, most likely against two of the sport's most formidable clay courters, Alex Corretja and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The matchups will be determined in Thursday's draw.

Then, depending on how those go, McEnroe will decide whether he will play with Martin or Gambill in Saturday's doubles, or bring in Chris Woodruff or Vince Spadea. For Spain, Corretja and Juan Balcells are expected to play the doubles. On Sunday, they'll play the reverse singles.

If McEnroe chooses to name himself for the doubles, it will be less out of vanity or a belief that he can turn back the hands of time than a realistic assessment of the cards he's been dealt. Neither Woodruff nor Spadea are particularly adept at doubles.

"I'm trying to get myself ready in case it does happen," McEnroe said. McEnroe, who won 77 career doubles titles and the same number of singles titles, played with different partners in practice, didn't lose a set, and looked much more comfortable on the court than Woodruff and Spadea. "I feel like I've known the game of doubles," McEnroe said.

Martin wasn't enthusiastic about McEnroe playing, saying a few weeks ago that there were better choices and that it would hurt his effectiveness as captain.

"I definitely have to hedge from that, seeing we have a completely different squad," Martin said today. "Now we're obviously depleted." Still, Martin said, McEnroe's weak second serve is a serious liability on clay.

McEnroe planned to play Sampras and Martin in doubles, but that idea ended when Sampras pulled out last week with claims that the tendinitis in his left leg needed rest after his Wimbledon victory. When Agassi pulled out, too, saying he was injured in a minor car accident, McEnroe lost his best clay-court player.

"Pete, maybe you could see the writing on the wall that that was going to happen," McEnroe said. "Andre was a shock. I know that he had a really tough loss and that it was probably difficult for him emotionally to bounce back with the scheduling of this."

McEnroe said it all will cause him to consider whether he wants to return as captain next year.

"Obviously one of the reasons I was hired was so that I would make a difference in getting the players to play," he said. "Well, I clearly haven't succeeded."

News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits