SPARRING PARTNERS - AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT
The U.S. Davis Cup team includes two players whose work won't be seen in public but will help the Americans compete this week.
Tennys Sandgren, 21, and Mitchell Krueger, 19, are the team practice partners - playing head-to-head with the stars in recent days.
"This has been a ton of fun," Krueger said. "I've hit with these guys before, but never consistently several days in a row. This is nice because we feel like we're part of the team."
The job is a rite of passage for up-and-coming American tennis players. Team members Sam Querrey and John Isner were practice partners multiple times.
"It's an opportunity for our team to bring some younger players along and give them a chance to be a part of the Davis Cup team - hopefully they aspire to be on the team," U.S. captain Jim Courier said. "Their role is to be on the court and give everything they have to get the singles and doubles players ready for match play. They'll probably spend more time on the court than anyone all week."
The team practiced for 3 hours each morning. Isner and Querrey tried to play two sets each during that time. In the afternoon, the practice focused more on specific shots.
Sandgren, who was playing a tournament in Mexico last week, didn't arrive until Monday because of travel delays. That left Krueger to spend 3 hours on the court Sunday and Monday against the two powerful U.S. singles players.
"I played eight sets in two days, so I was glad when he got here," Krueger said.
Krueger was the top-ranked junior in the U.S. and peaked at No. 5 in the world in January 2012. He reached the semifinals in the boys singles at the French Open and Wimbledon last year, then turned pro. He's playing primarily the Futures tour.
Sandgren - who was named after his great-grandfather, who was not a tennis player - is a former Tennessee All-American playing primarily in Challenger events. That's the level between the Futures tour and the ATP World Tour.
Krueger won at least one set this week, 6-4 against Isner.
"They've told us to just play your game, play your style and give the guys the best competition we can," Sandgren said. " It's really good to see the level they're playing at. This is a good goal - maybe one day we could possibly play on the Davis Cup team."
In the meantime, they're here to serve in any capacity the team needs.
"(The players) have been great," Sandgren said. "They haven't made us do any crazy stuff - yet, anyway."
The three guys expected to handle all of the play for Serbia this week have competed in a total of 75 Davis Cup ties - and all three have winning records.
Novak Djokovic is 22-9 in 18 ties, Viktor Troicki is 16-9 in 14 ties and Nenad Zimonjic is 39-21 in 43 ties.
"I don't know how long we'll have to wait to have this kind of generation again," Zimonjic, 36, said. "Maybe never, but I hope someone will come who will manage to make better results than all of us have made."
Zimonjic is a doubles specialist. He is 26-11 in those matches and has played in the Davis Cup all but one year since 1995. He doesn't plan to stop soon.
"As long as I enjoy it and as long as I have a spot on the team and as long as I can help the team, I'll be here," he said. "It's been a long journey for me. I'm happy and fortunate to play for many years."
NOW THAT'S A TROPHY
The Davis Cup started as a sterling silver punchbowl. Three plinths have been added below the bowl to accommodate plaques that include the names of the players on the winning and runner-up teams. The trophy is 3 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 231 pounds. The trophy is the only major sporting cup to last a full century, according to the USTA.
Players are paid for their participation in the Davis Cup. They also receive ranking points. The chair umpires for this tie are John Blom (Australia) and Pascal Maria (France).
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398