Originally created 09/17/02

Americans hope to master clay in Davis cup semis against France



PARIS -- On the final day of practice for the Davis Cup semifinals, Andy Roddick launched his racket into the empty stands. The day before, he broke another of his rackets.

The red clay of Roland Garros had frustrated another American, and the challenge isn't likely to get any easier when the United States plays defending champion France this weekend.

Roddick, a rising star who lost to Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, said his racket-flinging and repeated exclamations ("Why didn't I stick with baseball?" went one) were nothing to worry about.

"I can go off the court and two minutes later I'm OK," he said. "It's no big deal for me. I felt I was starting to play a little better at the end."

If the 20-year-old Nebraskan is feeling nervous about playing in Paris again, it wouldn't be too surprising. Last year he won two matches in his French Open debut, which ended prematurely because of a thigh strain, but this year he was knocked out in the first round.

"It's just a matter of getting used to the points and the way they develop on clay," Roddick said. "I just have to get a couple more sets in me."

Roddick is being tutored by U.S. team coach Jim Courier, a two-time French Open champion.

"The magic doesn't work unless you believe," Courier said softly from the back of the court as Roddick's anger mounted.

"Jim's great. We get along really well," Roddick said. "It seems like he always knows the right to say, especially when I'm getting frustrated. He knows this court as well as anybody, so it's nice to have him here."

The U.S. hasn't played France at Roland Garros since 1932, when it lost 3-2.

The French team chose this year's venue hoping it would benefit its players, who practically are reared on clay courts. But American captain Patrick McEnroe said the hosts could get a surprise.

"They chose clay more because of us than because of them," he said. "We'll find out if that was a mistake."

Sampras, who traditionally is weak on clay, chose not to play in the Davis Cup semfinals, to be held Friday through Sunday. The team instead is made up of Roddick, James Blake, doubles specialist Todd Martin and Mardy Fish.

Roddick and Blake are likely to play singles against France's Sebastien Grosjean and Arnaud Clement. Blake and Martin likely will play the deciding doubles match against Fabrice Santoro and Mickael Llodra.

The French team is captained by Guy Forget, who with Henri Leconte won the 1991 Davis Cup by beating a U.S. team that included Sampras and Andre Agassi.

"Roddick and Blake are not like Sampras and Agassi at the time," Forget said. "They've done less, for the moment. But maybe they won't make the same mistakes as their elders."

Pete Sampras lost both his singles matches in that final, despite having won the 1990 U.S. Open, and France took the title 3-1. The only American victory was Andre Agassi's singles win over Forget in the opening match.