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L. Jon Wertheim
December 10, 2007
Power Play On a fast home court the U.S. pounded Russia into submission to win the Davis Cup for the first time in 12 years
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December 10, 2007

Tennis

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Power Play
On a fast home court the U.S. pounded Russia into submission to win the Davis Cup for the first time in 12 years

THE DAVIS CUP final was held last weekend in Portland's Memorial Coliseum, an intimate, boxy arena that opened in 1960 and is perfumed with the smell of popcorn apparently cooked around the same time. The scoreboard above the court featured fonts associated with an Atari computer. During breaks in the matches a marching band belted out Blondie's Call Me as the sold-out crowd of 12,000 blew on kazoos, waved pom-poms and brandished hand-painted signs. The modern-day blight of ThunderStix was one of the few indications that we weren't still in, say, the Carter Administration.

Adding to the retro vibe, the U.S. beat Russia to win the competition. Never mind the cold war echoes. The victory recalled an era in which Americans ruled the tennis roost. As recently as the early 1990s the U.S. provided the majority of the world's top racketeers and was a powerhouse in Davis Cup. But as tennis growth in the U.S. stalled while it accelerated in other parts of the world, Stateside Cup glory was hard to come by. Before last weekend the U.S. hadn't won the trophy since 1995, foiled not only by tennis-rich countries such as Spain, Sweden and Australia but also by Croatia and Russia. "The days of one country dominating Davis Cup are over," says U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe. "That's just the reality of tennis being so global."

Still, this year the stars aligned for the Stars and Stripes. The rub of Davis Cup is that the host country selects the surface. Because of some fortunate pairings, though, the Yanks snaked through the draw, beating one tough opponent on slow clay, their traditional bugbear. Then, as hosts of the final, they played on a slick court that blunted the Russians' nuance and touch and accentuated the home team's lock-and-load power.

This benefited Andy Roddick, the top U.S. player, most of all. Armed with an elephant gun for a serve and a Colt .45 for a forehand, Roddick had been on the cusp of Big Things when he won the U.S. Open in 2003, a few days after his 21st birthday. But around the same time Roger Federer transformed himself from a talented head case to a peerless performer, and suddenly Roddick came to resemble a decent executive without the skills to rise above middle management. Unlikely to challenge Federer for the biggest individual prizes, Roddick set his sights on the biggest team prize and became an uncommonly committed Davis Cup player.

Last Friday, in what he called "definitely one of the biggest [occasions] of my career," Roddick set the tone for the final by whistling two dozen aces past Dmitry Tursunov and winning the first match in straight sets. James Blake then defeated Mikhail Youzhny in four sets, tapping reserves of poise that he had not often found in the past. On Saturday the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike, drained what little drama remained in the final by winning their doubles match in straight sets over Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev. And just like that, with surprising ease, the U.S. ended a 12-year Davis Cup drought. "It's been an amazing journey," says Roddick, who, it should be pointed out, now has one tennis milestone that even the mighty Federer has not attained. "We've been all over the world waiting for this moment."

An exceptionally close-knit team, the American scelebrated with a hopping group hug before taking victory laps around the court while carrying the flag. After their relevant matches on Sunday, in which Bob Bryan lost to Andreev and Blake beat Tursunov to bring the final score to 4--1, the U.S. team posed in front of the massive silver trophy. In 2007, anyway, it was not a tasse, a coppa or a coupe. It was a cup.

ONLY AT SI.COM L. Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag, Wednesdays.

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