After six years under the reserved and thoughtful direction of Tom Gullikson, the U.S. Davis Cup team got an injection of brash enthusiasm today when John McEnroe was named its captain.
McEnroe, who has been campaigning for the job for years, should bring a much higher profile to the Davis Cup squad, attracting more fans and better players to compete in the international team event. He swore today that he will be better behaved as coach than he was during his storied playing career, although his unflinching frankness was still in evidence as he accepted his new role.
"Needless to say, it's one of the proudest moments of my life," said McEnroe, 40, before motioning to Judy Levering, the president of the USTA. "Apparently it took this wonderful lady to show some guts finally, and I appreciate that."
The USTA has shied away from the outspoken McEnroe in the past, but Levering said she decided to finally select him after getting input from Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Todd Martin, who all are likely candidates to play Davis Cup in the near future. Gullikson, whose birthday is today, was popular with the players for his calm, sensitive demeanor, but he was heavily criticized for his mishandling of the quarterfinal series in July in which the United States lost to Australia.
When it became clear earlier this month that Gullikson's job was in trouble, Sampras said he would not play for any other captain. Today, however, Levering said she had Sampras's "blessing" on hiring McEnroe. Agassi, who has declined to participate in Davis Cup in recent years, also praised the decision, virtually ensuring that he will be back on the team when it starts play again in February.
"I think he's going to be the best captain yet by far," Agassi said. "I wanted a say-so -- as well as all the other players having a say-so -- in who was going to be captain, and we had closed-door meetings where it was pretty unanimous. Having John will make a huge difference. Now all we have to do is get Pete on board to play and we're all good."
McEnroe said he was willing to fly to California to personally persuade Sampras to play, just one of the many things he would like to accomplish as captain.
For the moment, McEnroe said he would not consider himself to play in the Davis Cup doubles matches, although he left the possibility open. For now, he said he would like to involve some of the United States' younger players in the Davis Cup doubles matches. When asked about the possible inclusion of Rockville native Paul Goldstein, McEnroe said, "Someone like that would be good. Someone who went to college, or maybe someone who is even younger. Someone who is a competitor."
McEnroe has a clear idea on the kind of person it takes to win Davis Cup matches; as a player he compiled a 59-10 record (41-8 in singles and 18-2 in doubles). He has played in 30 Davis Cup competitions over a 12-year span, the most of any American. Since retiring from the ATP Tour, he has participated extensively on the seniors circuit and built up a successful career as a television analyst.
"He has a fire in his belly and a passion for the sport, and that's what we need," said Billie Jean King, the captain of the United States' Federation Cup team. "In the past, John and I have been some of the worst critics of the USTA . . . and now can you imagine it? The two hotheads are running things."