USA TODAY: US CAPTAINS COURIER, FERNANDEZ LOOK AHEAD TO 2013
Jim Courier and Mary Joe Fernandez, each in their own ways, are presiding over new eras for the U.S. Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.
Though Andy Roddick already had stepped aside in recent years, the Davis Cup stalwart is gone for good now, retiring at the U.S. Open. Mardy Fish has struggled with illness and injuries, leaving John Isner as Courier’s go-to guy.
Fernandez’s “new” era is about the return of Serena Williams, who was back on the team in 2012 for the first time since 2007, in part to become eligible for the London Olympics. Williams won all four of her singles matches in the USA’s two victories in 2012.
Fernandez and Courier spoke Wednesday in a conference call, looking ahead to the 2013 season.
“What we saw in Spain (loss in the semifinals) is probably the nucleus of what our team will be for the next couple of ties,” Courier said. “Isner, with (Sam) Querrey, with the Bryans (doubles specials Bob and Mike), until Mardy (Fish) gets up and running.”
Isner turned is some big performances last year, his first as the USA’s No. 1 guy, and Courier expects more of the same in 2013. “He is the most disruptive force in men’s tennis when he’s on his game,” Courier said. “He showed he has the ability to beat the top players. He is one of those few guys that you look at and say he can win a major.”
Courier also praised Querrey’s progress in 2012, and listed among the other contenders for his team Donald Young Jr. and Ryan Harrison, and even younger players Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla and Jack Sock.
The team will be announced during the Australian Open, Courier said.
The USA’s first-round tie will be against Brazil, Feb. 1-3 in Jacksonville.
We’re proud of what 2012 ended up being for us given how challenging the draw was,” Courier said. “We’ve earned some home ties this year, which we’re really looking forward to, assuming we win our first one.”
Fernandez has a couple of up-and-coming stars that could be the future of the team, Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens. But, she also has Serena as the team leader.
“(Serena) enjoyed being on a team, and being a role model,” Fernandez said. “I think this fits into her schedule. If she’s healthy, I think we’ll see her there.”
Serena is expected to be in the lineup when the Americans travel to Italy to play on clay Feb. 9-10.
“As of now, we’re looking at Serena.” Fernandez said. “She’s so far said yes, she wants to go. Venus, if healthy, wants to go. I’m happy with the progress we’ve seen from Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens. Both in the top 40 now. Sloane had a breakthrough season. We’ve seen her ability. She’s getting mentally tougher, playing to her strengths much more.”
The USA is back in the World Group after being relegated a year ago.
Courier also face the challenge of getting Davis Cup and Fed Cup noticed on a busy sports calendar. He would like the change the way Davis Cup is played, and is an advocate of a two-week, World-Cup-style finale at a single site with multiple teams, following a qualifying process.
Even so, he is a strong supporter.
“I’m very passionate about Davis Cup and I’d love to see it get equal to the other majors.” Courier said. “There are lots of different thoughts out there about how to get there. But given that it takes up four weeks on the calendar, I’d love to see it make a little bit more sense for the players, I’d love to see it make a lot more money for the ITF so they can do their good work spreading the gospel of tennis around the world.”