U.S. Hurting Coming Into Davis Cup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dream Team took a physical pounding the last three days at Key Biscayne, Fla.

And, we're talking about tennis.

There was Pete Sampras grinding it out in the heat and the humidity for more than three hours, winning the Ericsson Open on Sunday. Afterward, an exhausted Sampras said the victory against Gustavo Kuerten was more physically demanding than his epic semifinal loss to Andre Agassi at the Australian Open in January.

Speaking of Agassi, he was last seen limping away after Friday's semifinal loss to Kuerten, hobbling on a sprained right ankle. ATP tour trainer Doug Spreen diagnosed it as a moderate sprain and felt Agassi would be ready to play in a few days.

Agassi also thought the injury would not prevent him from playing in this week's quarterfinal Davis Cup match against the Czech Republic at the Great Western Forum.

Nevertheless, Agassi's injury, which occurred in a quarterfinal against Britain's Tim Henman, creates an added element of doubt in the U.S. camp this week.

"The problem was just my leg was cramping against him [Henman], so I wasn't quite aware of the damage to the ligament," Agassi said after the loss to Kuerten. "I had my calf and the whole side of my leg in cramps."

The ankle bothered him when he tried to push off. He took an injury timeout after the first set and had it taped.

"It was getting worse quickly," Agassi said. "Then I started worrying about the damage. I knew the only chance I had was to tape it up. But it wasn't good."

Luckily, under rule changes this year, there are more options for U.S. Davis Cup captain John McEnroe.

McEnroe, who was at the Laker game on Sunday, can make a lineup change up until an hour before Thursday's draw at noon. If Agassi is unable to play because of an injury, McEnroe can replace him with someone such as Todd Martin or Chris Woodruff, according to a USTA spokesperson.

Martin, who has been sidelined because of an ankle injury, will be in Los Angeles practicing with the team this week. Woodruff is not scheduled to be here but was summoned at late notice from his home in Knoxville, Tenn., for the last match at Zimbabwe when Sampras withdrew because of an injury.

The U.S. team is not scheduled to practice today, officials said. The Czechs will work out in the afternoon. McEnroe, who will be making his debut as Davis Cup captain on U.S. soil, is supposed to hit with team practice partner Andy Roddick.

The teams have not played since 1996. In the most recent meeting, the Czech Republic beat the United States, 3-2, in the quarterfinals at Prague. Martin won both his singles matches, beating Petr Korda and Daniel Vacek.

Tickets for the matches are still available. About 11,000 have been sold for Friday's singles matches, the USTA said. Two singles matches are played Friday, the doubles Saturday and the final two singles on Sunday.

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DAVIS CUP

UNITED STATES vs. CZECH REPUBLIC

* When: Friday-Sunday.

* Where: Great Western Forum.

* Round: Second.

* Teams: United States, singles: Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras; doubles: Alex O'Brien-Jared Palmer. Czech Republic, singles: Jiri Novak, Slava Dosedel; doubles: Martin Damm-David Rikl.

* TV: Friday: noon, ESPN; 3 p.m., ESPN2. Saturday: 2 p.m., ESPN (tape). Sunday: 2 p.m., ESPN (tape); 4:30 p.m., ESPN2 (if fifth match).

* Series: In their only meeting in Davis Cup, Czech Republic defeated U.S., 3-2, in 1996 quarterfinal.

* Tickets: Prices ranging from $20 to $450. Call TicketMaster at (213) 480-3232.

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