John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, jim Courier and Pete Sampras

From John McEnroe’s autobiography’s Serious:

My final Davis Cup tie, in Fort Worth, was a brief, strange respite. I has brought along a support group: my parents, my brothers, all three of my children, a nanny, and my agent, Sergio Palmieri. I needed every one of them. A few days before, I had been staying at Andre Agassi’s house in Las Vegas, telling Andre, “I don’t know if I can do Davis Cup – I just can’t function”.

The news of my separation with Tatum had leaked to the press – a couple of photographs of Tatum out kicking up her heels with new friends had fanned the flames – and it was all the reporters wanted to talk about. I spent the days before my match (I was there to play doubles with Pete Sampras) trying to practice and spend time with my kids as I dodged inappropriate questions.

The strain showed when I finally got on court to play. The atmosphere inside the Tarrant County Convention Center was the kind of chaos I’d once loved in Davis Cup – American fans waving flags and sounding boat horns at lederhosen-wearing Swiss fans chanting and rattling cowbells – but now it felt all too much like the chaos inside me. I double-faulted at set point in the fist set tiebreaker, then dropped my serve again at 5-4 in the second set, which Pete and I went on to lose in another tiebreaker.
I felt furious and humiliated. This was my final Davis Cup; I couldn’t go out on a loss – to the Swiss! (It was the first time they’d ever made it to the final). I began yelling at Pete, trying to psych him up; trash-talking at Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset, the Swiss team. Somehow we managed to hang on and take the third set, 7-5, but by the time we went into the locker room for the ten-minute break, I was in some kind of altered state. All my fear and anger and frustration and sorrow had built up to the point where smoke was practically coming out of my ears.

“We’re going to go out and kick some ass!” I screamed, at Pete and Jim Courier and Andre Agassi.

“We’re going to go out and kick some ass!” I repeated. I screamed it over and over, like a war chant, until my voice was hoarse.
And when Pete and I went back out, that was exactly what we did. Every time we won a point, Agassi and Courier would shout, “Answer the question!” a little phrase I occasionally used to shout at umpires. Pete – imagine it; Pete Sampras! – was shouting, pumping his fist. The fans in the stands were going crazy, the boat horns drowing out the cowbells. We won the last two sets 6-1 and 6-2. When it was over, Pete hugged me. “I love you, Mac”, he said.

I rested up my voice that night, then screamed it hoarse again the next day as Jim beat Hlasek in four sets. When it was all over, I took a big American flag from courtside and ran around and around the court, waving it high from both hands, as the crowd went nuts. I was as happy as I’d ever been.

Davis Cup 1992

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

Shortly after the US Open, we played our Davis Cup semifinal against Sweden on indoor clay at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Because clay was not my best surface, I played only doubles – with McEnroe. We toughed out a real war with one of the best doubles squads of the era, Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd.

This was my first Davis Cup experience as a “doubles specialist”, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the assignment. Doubles is an enjoyable sideshow at most tournaments, but it has a starring role in Davis Cup because of the format. As the third and only match on Saturday, doubles is the kingmaker in Cup play. Most Davis Cup teams that enjoyed long-term success were anchored by a great doubles team. When a tie is 1-1, which is often the case after the Friday opening singles matches, getting to that 2-1 lead can be huge. It also didn’t hurt my own enthusiasm level, or results, that my partner on some key occasions was McEnroe. Remember, it was McEnroe’s own longtime partner, Peter Fleming, who famously quipped, when asked to name the best doubles team of all the time “John McEnroe and anyone”.

We went on to meet the Swiss team in the 1992 final, on an indoor hard court in Fort Worth, Texas. Gorman, perhaps still mindful of Lyon, decided to play it safe. He named Courier and Andre, who were both playing very well, to the singles slots, and put me down for doubles, again partnered with Johnny Mac.
That was fine with me – Andre had proven himself a great Davis Cup singles player. He’s an emotional guy who really gets into all the hoopla. Jim was right there with Andre as a Davis Cup warrior. He gave his all, he was gritty and very cool under pressure. We had, arguably, the greatest Davis Cup team of all time – and a pretty subborn bunch. In the opening ceremony, the promote wanted us to wear these ten-gallon hats and it kind of freaked Jim out. He snapped, “I’m not wearing that stupid hat!” So there were no cowboys hats.

1992 Swiss Davis Cup team

The Swiss had a very tough two-man team consisting of Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset. Both guys were very good on fast courts, which is unusual because most Europeans prefer the slower clay. So much for our home-court/fast-court advantage. Hlasek was in the midst of his career year in singles, and Rosset was a guy with a game as tricky as it was big. He could play serve and volley, even though his career moment of glory occured on slow clay a few months earlier, when he won the singles gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games.
Andre won the opening rubber, but then Rosset showed his mettle with an upset of Jim. McEnroe and I would be playing Hlasek and Rosset in what suddenly looked like a critical doubles match. And when we lost the first two sets, both in tiebreakers, it looked like tiny Switzerland might pull one of the most shocking of Davis Cup upsets – and on US soil, no less.

John was in one of his McEnroe moods. Throughout the match, he trash-talked Hlasek, a very quite but cool guy who minded his own business and got along with everyone. John was suffering, and coming dangerously close of losing control. But then he was unlike anyone else in that he often played better after going nuts. Some of the line calls in the first two sets seemed dodgy, and in the third set John finally lost it over another apparent bad call. He started in on the umpire, and he just kept going on. He yelled at the official, and he yelled at our own captain, Gorman (for not making more of a fuss and “standing up for us”). He was just going ballistic in general, in any direction he wanted, long after the point in question was over.
Finally, I just lost it myself. I turned on John and snapped,

“John, it’s over. Done with. Let’s not harp on what happened three games ago, it’s time to move on, man.”

For some reason, my own little outburst had two welcome results. It calmed John down (emotionally, if not verbally) and it fired me up. We won the third set and adjourned for what was then still the required ten-minute break before the start ofthe fourth set. John and I came off the break with wild eyes and fire in our bellies. It was one of those rare occasions when I got into the emotion of it all. I was pumping my fist and yelling. McEnroe must have said, “Come on, let’s kick ass” a thousand times. We clawed and fist-pumped and yelled our way to a not very pretty but extremely relieving win, 6-2 in the fifth.

John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, 1992 Davis Cup final

Although I became very emotional in that match, in general John and I were like a Jekyll and Hyde pairing; I tended to be cool and forward-looking, he was hot-tempered and all wrapped up in the moment, always ready for an altercation. He thrived on that, and I understood it. We were good for each other. He pumped me up with his emotional outbursts, even if I didn’t show it, and I calmed him down with my self-control, even if he was, externally, still the same contentious, fiery player.

The next day, after Jim beat Hlasek to clich the tie, I became a Davis Cup champ. It mattered not at all that I had played only doubles in the final; I had done my share all year and felt as proud and entitled as if I had played every singles match for the United States in our drive to win the Cup.

Photo credit: Paul Zimmer