Patrick McEnroe's resignation as Davis Cup captain on Monday didn't come as a surprise to those around the game. There's a reason the United States will fight for its spot in the world group in Colombia next week: The team that McEnroe coached to Davis Cup glory is no longer.
First to go was James Blake. Last year, Blake, 30, began a free fall that has taken him as low as No. 117 in the world. Then Andy Roddick, 28, announced in January that he would skip Davis Cup in 2010 to save his body. And the 32-year-old twins Bob and Mike Bryan, while they continue to be the main event on the men's doubles tour, only work when the team has solid singles players. McEnroe's resignation after 10 years as captain is the last nail in the coffin for this era of U.S. Davis Cup.
But it's certainly an era worth celebrating. Although McEnroe leaves to devote more time to his role as the general manager of USTA Player Development, a full-time job in itself, the work he did as Davis Cup captain can't be overlooked.
It took McEnroe five years to build the team that would win the U.S. its first Davis Cup in 12 years, the longest title drought for the Americans in history. Roddick, Blake and the Bryan brothers first played together under McEnroe in 2005, and they stayed together through 10 consecutive ties. In 2007, the team won four ties all 4-1 to win Davis Cup for the U.S. for the first time since 1995. Overall, McEnroe is the second-winningest coach in U.S. Davis Cup history, two behind Tom Gorman with a 16-9 record.
The spectacular commitment of the players is often attributed to the pros themselves. But McEnroe also played a hand, breathing new life and enthusiasm into what many view as a dying competition. Four times a year, he made tennis a team sport.
McEnroe has also been known for his forthright approach to leading the team. He always let the pros know where they stood. That straightforwardness came out once more in the selection of the team for McEnroe's final tie as captain. Although the Bryan brothers have been a monumental part of the U.S. team's success under McEnroe, he didn't include them in the lineup for Bogota because he wants extra singles players in the high altitude. It makes for a strange goodbye after the Bryans have played in 19 of the past 20 ties dating back to 2003. But the Bryans have said they understand his logic and respect his decision.
After all, they would mean just one point of the required three in a very important tie. Relegation doesn't mean consolation; it's a playoff to keep the U.S., winner of the most Davis Cups with 32, in the Cup-contending tier, the world group.
Win or lose, who will lead the team into the future remains to be seen. Both Jim Courier and Todd Martin, members of the team that won the cup in 1995, have expressed interest.
So, off McEnroe goes on his final Davis Cup journey without any of the team members who won him a title. Instead, he's going to Bogota with a squad that includes top 25 players Sam Querrey, John Isner and Mardy Fish.
The fourth member of the brand-new U.S. team, 18-year-old upstart Ryan Harrison, may be the hope for the long-term future of U.S. Davis Cup. With his first-round upset of top-20 player Ivan Ljubicic at the U.S. Open, we learned that Harrison has the game to make his mark on the pro tour. Maybe his generation can mark a new era in U.S. Davis Cup, as well.