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
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
Jonatahn Sexton scores a penalty
rugby
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
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.

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?