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TENNIS Agassi returns to Davis Cup



Published: Tue, February 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Patrick McEnroe hopes star can help America win first crown since 1995

NEW YORK (AP) -- Andre Agassi is returning to the U.S. Davis Cup team after a five-year absence, persuaded by a 21/2-hour chat with captain Patrick McEnroe over dinner at a Las Vegas restaurant.

Agassi will try to help the United States win the Davis Cup for the first time in a decade, agreeing to play at least in a first-round match against Croatia on March 4-6 at Carson, Calif., the U.S. Tennis Association announced Monday.

The eight-time Grand Slam tournament champion, who turns 35 in April and is a father of two, stopped playing Davis Cup in 2000 as part of a scaled-back schedule geared to peaking for the majors.

He told McEnroe he wasn't sure if he wanted to come back to the team unless he could commit to playing every match. But McEnroe flew to Agassi's hometown last week after the Australian Open to say, in effect: Hey, show up when you can.

"I told him, 'Look, I'm not expecting you to do that, nor are any of the guys on the team. Don't cut off your options by saying it's all or nothing, because we've never had a year where we had the same four guys for every match,' " McEnroe said Monday in a conference call. "I just tried to convince him that it wasn't a deal-breaker."

Proven Davis Cup winner

Agassi was a member of three Davis Cup championship teams, going 30-5 in singles.

Just last month, he sounded like someone leaning against playing in the 16-nation tournament.

But Agassi spoke to members of the U.S. team and heard McEnroe's sales pitch.

"The captain and players know that my life will not allow me to play every tie at this stage of my career," Agassi said in a statement released Monday by the USTA.

"Still, they all expressed encouragement, which is very much appreciated."

Bringing Agassi back into the fold improves the team -- and should help sell tickets, about 50 percent of which are unsold for Carson.

He was ranked No. 1 as recently as early 2003, is 10th in the world now and still the sport's most popular male player.

"In my opinion, he's playing top-four, top-five tennis," McEnroe said.

"And because of his aura, because of what he brings to the table as a person, as a competitor, it quite obviously makes it a bigger event."

A lost decade

The United States has won the competition a record 31 times, but not since 1995 -- the team's longest drought since the gap between titles in 1926 and 1937. The Americans lost to Spain in last year's Davis Cup final.

"Imagine if Agassi had played the last four years," McEnroe said. "We probably could have won it once or twice."

Andy Roddick, who finished 2003 ranked No. 1 and won the U.S. Open that season, is entrenched as the top U.S. singles player. The second singles slot for Davis Cup has been rotating; Mardy Fish filled that role against Spain. Twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan are the U.S. doubles team.

"I've let him know that I'm 100 percent supportive, if he wants to join us. You know, I definitely want him on the team," Roddick said last week.

"Selfishly, I'd love to be around him and learn, be in that close contact with him for a week."

John McEnroe, Patrick's older brother and predecessor as captain, cited an inability to get Agassi and Pete Sampras to play Davis Cup regularly as a reason for stepping down after just 14 months leading the U.S. squad.

USTA chief executive Arlen Kantarian credited Patrick McEnroe with creating a "player-friendly environment around Davis Cup. There's a new sense of camaraderie. "This is really a dream team for the U.S."




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