FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — While Patrick McEnroe‘s resignation as U.S. captain caught some off guard, his exclusion of the Bryan Bros. — twins Bob and Mike — from the Davis Cup roster for the Sept. 17-19 tie versus Colombia comes as an even bigger surprise.
McEnroe’s explanation? The altitude. The tie will be played on clay at the 14,500-seat Plaza de Toros La Santamaria in Bogota, at 8,000 feet the third-highest capital city in the world. The thinking is, should one of players suffer from altitude sickness, it’s best to have another singles player to insert in his slot.
Although Mike Bryan did his best to toe the company line, there was some obvious disappointment.
“We would have liked to play, but this is a unique tie,” said Bryan.
“Sam and John proved that they’re one of the top doubles teams in the world, and Mardy can jump in there with anyone and win the match, so I think the doubles is kind of on the back burner,” he added. “It’s more about the singles.”
According to sources, McEnroe spoke with the world’s top doubles tandem about the makeup of the team in Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and New York, and it was decided that the foursome of Mardy Fish, John Isner, Sam Querrey and 18-year-old Ryan Harrison would give the U.S. its best chance to win. The possibility of just one of the brothers joining the team was discussed, then rejected.
“We’re a package deal,” said Bryan. “We’re a team.”
The notion of including John Isner seems odd. The 6-foot-9 power server hasn’t been the same player since injuring his ankle in Cincinnati, and struggled to cover the court in his third-round loss to Mikhail Youzhny at the U.S. Open. The idea of sending him to Bogota to play on clay would seem a precarious undertaking. While his monster serve will likely fly in the high-altitude environs, he surely won’t be comfortable covering the baseline in extended rallies.
“He’s still got a little swelling in the ankle, but it’s pretty strong,” said Bryan. “He’s doing a lot of rehab. He’s doing the right things.”
Since their first tie against the Slovak Republic in 2003, the Bryans have been regulars on the U.S. Davis Cup team. They have become all but an automatic point on Saturday, going 16-2 together. Plus, unlike the majority of their teammates, the ’03 Roland Garros titlists have always played well on clay.
The altitude argument doesn’t hold much water. There’s always a risk of a player going down to injury or sickness, regardless of surface, making the Bryans’ absence in Bogota even more peculiar.
“It comes down to Patrick,” explained Bryan. “He wants three singles guys. We respect that. Almost every other team does the same thing. Who knows? Querrey and Isner could be a sure point, too.”
There were others who questioned McEnroe’s picks, too. Donald Young — ranked No. 100 — wondered aloud why Harrison (ranked No. 220) got the nod over him (or, for that matter, Michael Russell (No. 80) and Taylor Dent (No. 72)). The Atlantan Tweeted, “Patrick just please answer that one for me?…your last decision as davis cup captain is this? no disrespect to harrison at all!…i just want to know if its based off of ranking and performance why harrison gets chosen for the 4 man davis cup team before me???”
Of course, outside of a dead-rubber, Harrison will likely serve solely as a practice partner.
“We had a great eight years playing,” said Bryan. “There are still many ties in the future. We love Davis Cup and we’re going to be supportive. We’d like to be down there, but we respect his decision. He’s made a lot of tough calls in the past. This is maybe another tough call he has to make.”
Although the U.S. will go in as a prohibitive favorite (even without the Bryan Bros.) against the lineup of Alejandro Falla, Santiago Giraldo, Carlos Salamanca and Juan-Sebastian Cabal, the importance of the tie can’t be overstated. It’s the first time since 2005, and just the fifth time since the World Group was instituted in 1981, that the U.S. has had to compete in the playoff round. Should they lose, they would be relegated to the Americas Zone Group I for the first time since 1988. And it would take them another year to climb back into the World Group.
“We’re not retiring for Davis Cup,” insisted Bryan. “If Pat calls us in the next six days and wants us, we’ll go down there.”
Of McEnroe’s departure, Bryan said he was as surprised as anyone else.
“We just heard rumors that he was going to step down,” he said. “We’re a little disappointed. We loved playing for PMac. It’s too bad — we wanted to play maybe one more match with PMac because we love the guy and we had a great run. I think all the players really respected him and loved playing for him. He did great things for U.S. Davis Cup.”