KOHALA COAST, Hawaii -- He isn't a character out of Dickens, but he does seem to be the ghost of Davis Cup past, present and future. And yesterday John McEnroe, who was Saturday's hero, rested on the sideline of the Mauna Lani Racquet Club as his younger compatriots, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, wrapped up a 5-0 first-round sweep of Argentina at this tropical playground.
"I want to win the cup again as a player," said McEnroe, who led the U.S. team to titles in 1979, 1981 and 1982 and also wants to coach it in the not-so-distant future.
The Americans, pushed to the limit by Germany in last year's semifinal and then eliminated by France in the final, wound up working harder in their intra-squad practices here than in the actual matches. That they did their work not only successfully but happily was, said Sampras, a direct result of McEnroe's presence.
"The huge impact on this team was John," Sampras said.
And the campaign for a 1992 Davis Cup is having a huge impact on McEnroe's motivation. "I wouldn't say it's my focal point, but it's a main point," he said. "The ultimate would be to win a Grand Slam and not really have to play anymore, but that's sort of a long shot." Meanwhile, McEnroe, 16-1 in Davis Cup doubles, and his family enjoyed what he described as "a paid vacation" here.
The Americans didn't particularly look like a team. The stars-and-stripes uniform rule was not in effect, so Agassi wore his modified biker regalia with impunity, and Sampras, who forgot his team jacket, borrowed one belonging to David Markin, the U.S. Davis Cup chairman, for the official draw ceremony and then went back to wearing T-shirts.
But on the court, they played like a team even though this was their first time functioning as one. On Friday, Agassi and Sampras mastered gale-force winds as well as their opponents, and on Saturday, McEnroe and Rick Leach clinched the contest in their first match together.
"This was the most competitive tennis week I've ever been involved with; this group shared the chemistry and dynamics to all push each other to another level," rhapsodized Tom Gorman, the seven-year captain, who nonetheless seemed reluctant to guarantee he would rehire all four for the coming rounds.
Yesterday Sampras indicated he might be involuntarily displaced by Jim Courier, who has a 1-3 Davis Cup record and could be ranked No. 1 in the world by the time the United States meets Czechoslovakia in March.
McEnroe, a 12-year Davis Cup veteran who's quick to recognize a championship team when he sees one, said: "This team could go all the way. Adding Jim Courier is not exactly a negative, but it might not be positive if he doesn't really want to play."
Leach said he would love teaming with McEnroe beyond Davis Cup, but McEnroe, who turns 33 in two weeks and whose heart is still in his singles, said he would have to "pick and choose" his doubles outings on this year's calendar out of deference to age, stress and his desire to make this year a true turning point.