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TENNIS

So Far, Woodruff Is Hit and Miss

February 21, 2001|LISA DILLMAN

The U.S. Davis Cup heroes of Zimbabwe 2000 were not to be found a year later in Switzerland. Andre Agassi stayed home, John McEnroe had stepped down as captain, and Chris Woodruff . . .

Where was Woodruff?

Had the Davis Cup newcomer who clinched the United States' first-round victory last February become a forgotten man so soon?

Shortly after his victory in Harare, Woodruff endured a difficult career transition, his Davis Cup performance having made him a marked man on the tour. But he was starting to find his way in 2001. He beat fellow American Jan-Michael Gambill in a spirited first-round match at the Australian Open and reached the third round, losing in four sets to Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Even so, Woodruff didn't make it to Basel, to take his shot at Roger Federer. He was left behind by new U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe. Woodruff had told reporters he expected to play against Switzerland, but instead spent the time tinkering with the mechanics of his game and playing some golf. Meanwhile, Federer led the Swiss to a 3-2 victory, defeating Gambill in singles and doubles along the way.

"I guess there was a misunderstanding," Woodruff said of his talks with McEnroe. "I had the impression when I was in Australia [that] I was going to be guaranteed to play singles."

Two developments kept him at home. McEnroe could not assure Woodruff he would play singles in Basel. And Woodruff got the impression from McEnroe that the Davis Cup money would drop significantly from last year's $100,000 per player per round. (A USTA representative said last week the money remained the same.)

Woodruff had agreed to play but had misgivings. McEnroe, detecting apprehension, asked Woodruff if he had doubts.

Said Woodruff, "I told him, 'You are right, there is some doubt. I'm not sure I agree with what you're trying to do. I feel like I do deserve to play at least one singles [match].' I thought there were two ways I could get on the team, either beat Gambill or do well in Australia."

Woodruff, 28, has heard and read about the American Davis Cup youth movement. It sounds good, now that Agassi has said he no longer wants to play and Pete Sampras remains ambivalent. But is going with new blood a strategy for long-term success . . . or merely short-term spin control?

"I'm a little confused now, which way the Davis Cup is going," Woodruff said. "I'm not sure what youth [Patrick McEnroe] is talking about. I know Andy Roddick is a very good player, and I'm sure he will be a great player one day. Beyond him, I don't know what youth he is talking about to compete against the Federers and the other people."

Woodruff was complimentary about McEnroe's debut as captain. But the best team leader in the world hardly has an impact on the outcome on the court if the top players are sitting at home. This is the first time the U.S. has lost in the first round of the Davis Cup since 1993 and it will play again in September, trying to escape relegation.

"I just feel bad for Patrick," Woodruff said. "He seems to keep talking about wanting to be around for the long picture and seems to have a really good attitude about Davis Cup and you can tell it's very special to him.

"Based on what I heard from the players over in Switzerland, he did a really outstanding job. I just feel bad for him because you're not going to win the Davis Cup taking the guys who have played in the past."

WET WARS

Agassi's tradition-reviving splash into the Yarra River after his Australian Open victory last month turned out to be the culmination of a pre-tournament pledge.

"You look at the same river for a month, preparing for the possibility of holding up that trophy," Agassi said. "When it was all said and done, I really didn't want to, and I kind of wish I hadn't said it, but I said I would do it.

"I pulled over, just jumped in. Nobody saw anything, excluding when I walked through the lobby of the hotel wet."

He found the plunge unhealthy.

"It was a lot dirtier than I anticipated," Agassi said of the river.

Agassi also won the Australian Open last year, then went out in the second round of the French Open, a victim of blistered feet, injuries and lack of quality preparation. That, of course, ended talk of a Grand Slam in 2000. Now, Agassi, who turns 31 in April, will be facing 2001 Grand Slam questions at least until the French Open in May.

Rod Laver was 31 when he completed the Grand Slam in 1969, but that was a different era.

"I really believe it's one of the most difficult things in sports to do," Agassi said of the Grand Slam. "I believe we'll see [Mark] McGwire's home run record broken before we see that. Hopefully, we'll see before the U.S. Open and maybe I'll have a chance. It's not an easy accomplishment."

RECORD RUN

It took a player from Stanford to surpass a record by a player from Stanford.

Cardinal sophomore Laura Granville won her 58th consecutive match, breaking the NCAA record at the USTA/ITA National Women's team indoor championships at the University of Wisconsin.

Granville broke the record Saturday, defeating Julie Ditty of Vanderbilt, 6-4, 6-1. Patty Fendick had established the mark at Stanford in the 1986-87 season. As it turned out, Fendick, now Patty Fendick-McCain, was able to watch Granville because she is coaching Washington.

Granville's streak ended Sunday when she lost to Aarthi Venkatesan of Georgia, 7-5, 6-2.

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