The U.S. Davis Cup will host Brazil in the first round of the 2013 competition, Feb. 1-3, also known as Super Bowl weekend, in Jacksonville, Fla. In 2012, the U.S. played all three Davis Cup ties on the road, posting impressive wins over a Roger Federer-led Swiss team and a strong French team in Monte-Carlo before losing to Spain in the semifinals. The U.S. Fed Cup starts its 2013 campaign on the road against Italy, Feb. 9-10, after sweeping Belarus and Ukraine to earn a place back in the World Group following a one-year absence. Long Island Tennis Magazine had a chance to sit in on a conference call with U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. Here are some of the duo's thoughts on the Americans' chances in 2013 ...
Serena and Venus are obviously known quantities to most of the world. Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale finished the year in the top 40, very young. What do you see out of them next year? Would you be surprised to see them reach a slam quarter or semi?
Fernandez: I think to me the most important thing is how much they want it. I've always seen that desire from Christina McHale, her work ethic, how hard she trains. This year is when I saw hit from Sloane. I think she is training the right way, mentally she is getting more focused, she's sustaining her level for longer periods when she plays. They're both very different, different styles of game. You're always going to have a little bit more stability with Christina, how she plays. There's much more upside from Sloane in the way she can create power, variety, the way she moves. I do expect them hopefully to go another step this year and make it to the quarterfinals of a major. They've both had big wins, and that helps a ton. Next goal is top 20 and we'll go from there.
You mentioned that so far you expect the Williams Sisters to play Fed Cup in 2013. Can you speak a little bit more on your conversations with them, specifically about Serena. Did you see signs of maturity in her on and off the court in 2012?
Fernandez: To answer your first part, I've spoken to her a couple times about it. As of now, she says she wants to play. She's spending a lot of time in Europe now, in Paris, where she has an apartment. This is one of the places that she actually was rooting for that we would draw because she loves playing in Italy. I think she sees a challenge. I actually think, from spending the time with her at Fed Cup and the Olympics last year, she enjoyed being on a team, the camaraderie she developed between the players, being the role model, having someone like Sloane look up to her and ask her questions. It's not something you get. I also understand her time is very valuable and she doesn't have every week to be able to devote to Fed Cup. But I think this fits into her schedule. I think if she's healthy, we're going to see her there.
As regards to Venus, with her it's a little tougher because she's managing her condition. It's all going to depend on how she's doing. She finished strong at the end of the year winning the one tournament. I don't believe she's playing anything before Australia, so I think that's going to be the big test, to see how she is in Melbourne.
Some comments were made a few weeks ago about changes you would like to see happen to Davis Cup. First and foremost, do you think it should be every other year as a lot of people have suggested, with the way Ryder Cup is for golf?
Courier: It's something that I've spoken pretty at length about. I'm on the record as to what my thoughts are for what change should come. But the ITF is in control of this event. Obviously, it's not a USTA-operated event; it's not a Jim Courier-operated event. I'm very passionate about Davis Cup and I'd love to see it get equal to the other majors. There are lots of different thoughts out there about how to get there. But given that it takes up four weeks on the calendar, I'd love to see it make a little bit more sense for the players, I'd love to see it make a lot more money for the ITF so they can do their good work spreading the gospel of tennis around the world. Right now I don't think it does quite as much as what it could in comparison to what the four majors do.
John Isner had some great moments this year, especially playing for you. Then he also had some tough moments. What do you expect from him next year? Can he be a slam contender?
Courier: I think if John has the kind of off-season that he should have, if he does all the right things, John is one of those players that can really upset the apple cart. We had this conference call this time last year, and I'll be echoing what I said, which he is the most disruptive force in men's tennis when he is on his game. I think he saw clearly this year that he has capabilities to beat the top players, because he did so. I think we also saw some physical limitations, which Craig addressed with him, I addressed with him, I think his new coach will be addressing with him, as well, that can certainly be easily corrected with the proper work and diligence. I've had lengthy discussions with him about his schedule. He knows what he needs to do. We'll see if he's able to actually do it. He really is one of those few guys that you can look at and say, he could win a major. As thick as this era is at the top, he's one of the guys that none of the top four players wants to see in his section of the draw.