Blake, Roddick to lead U.S. Davis Cup team vs. Russia

NEW YORK -- Win or lose, Andy Roddick, James Blake and Bob and Mike Bryan form a tight-knit group, the sort of camaraderie the U.S. Davis Cup team hadn't enjoyed in quite some time.

Now the big question is whether that friendly foursome can pull off a victory over host Russia in the Davis Cup semifinals Sept. 22-24.

"I did just luck out," U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said Tuesday, after announcing his team would consist of those players who enjoy each other's company, playing poker to pass the time when they're teammates.

"They genuinely look forward to the Davis Cup weeks. I think it really helps our guys, not just in Davis Cup but throughout the year. They really pull for each other and support each other," McEnroe said.

The best-of-five semifinal is scheduled to be played indoors at Moscow's Olympic Stadium on clay, a surface that's given Roddick and Blake fits in the past.

"We hear it's going to be nice and slow, nice and heavy," said McEnroe, in a tongue-and-cheek moment. "That's the way it's been when they've had some matches there in the past at the Olympic stadium."

In the 2004 Davis Cup final, the United States lost to Spain on clay in Seville. Last year, though, the United States qualified for the World Group by beating Belgium on that same slow surface.

McEnroe plans to get his group to practice on clay as soon as possible after the hard-court U.S. Open. He said Ryan Sweeting and Nikita Kryvonos would join the squad as practice partners.

The last time the Americans won the Davis Cup was when they beat Russia at Moscow in 1995, with Pete Sampras leading the way.

Blake, seeded fifth at the Open, and Roddick, seeded ninth, are still in the U.S. Open, with Roddick into the quarterfinals and Blake's fourth-round match postponed by rain before he hit a shot Tuesday.

The three leading candidates for Russia's team -- Marat Safin, Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny -- are also still in contention for the Open title. Safin and Davydenko were playing fourth-round matches that were suspended in progress Tuesday, while
Youzhny is set to face Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.

"I certainly would expect to see Davydenko on the first day, and if I had to bet, I would probably say Safin," McEnroe said. "But I think that could change. They come in with more question marks than we do, which can be a positive and can be a negative."

Safin said Russia still wanted to avenge its 1995 defeat.

"It was a huge mistake by the Russians," Safin said. "With all due respect to the players, to [Andrei] Chesnokov and [Yevgeny] Kafelnikov, they should have won, especially on clay. Playing against Sampras and [Jim] Courier, we should have won, that's for sure. Somehow, it slipped away.

"So, right now, it's a big match for us. I think we're going to win. We hope, we believe we're going to win the Davis Cup this year," he said. "We are going pretty strong, you know, coming to this match. We are going to practice hard, try to be in the final. This will be our second trophy, and I think we are very close to it."

The U.S.-Russia winner will meet Argentina or Australia in the Davis Cup final in December.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.