Russia Hold 2-1 Advantage in Bratislava

Russia takes a 2-1 lead over the Slovak Republic into the final day of their Davis Cup by NEC first round tie in Bratislava. Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin withstood a fine recovery by Dominik Hrbaty and Jan Kroslak to complete a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(7) victory in two hours and 38 minutes.

The Slovaks made a late change to their doubles team, replacing Karol Kucera, their hero on the opening day, with 27-year-old Jan Kroslak, who had not played a live rubber since 1998. Their Captain Miloslav Mecir admitted afterwards that they had tried to persuade Kucera to take part, but he was tired after his five-set victory over Safin and wanted to be rested for a potentially deciding rubber against Kafelnikov on Sunday.

However it was not Kroslak, but Dominik Hrbaty who once again struggled to find his form in the opening two sets, dropping his serve on three occasions as the Russians opened up a comfortable advantage. Double faults on crucial occasions proved the Slovak's undoing against some powerful serving by Safin and deadly returns by Kafelnikov.

Kroslak, the only player not to drop serve during the four-set encounter, did his best to try and lift Hrbaty's mood. "I started to make a few jokes. I told him that it was good tactics to lose the first two sets and that it couldn't get any worse. It almost worked."

Whether it was Kroslak's jokes or a lack of concentration by the Russians, the Slovaks enjoyed a mini revival in the third set. They reeled off four games in a row to take the set 6,2, and at 1-0 in the fourth, held two break points on Safin's serve.

The US Open champion managed to hold his delivery, and when Hrbaty immediately dropped serve for a fourth time the match looked over. However roused by the cheers of the 3000 capacity crowd, the Slovaks saved a match point at 4-5 and took the set into a tiebreak.

After the pairs had exchanged two mini-breaks, Kafelnikov squandered a second match point when he hit a forehand out over the baseline. Hrbaty then missed a set point when he hit a backhand return into the net, before Kafelnikov sealed victory with a backhand cross-court winner.

Afterwards the Olympic champion admitted he was relieved the match had not gone to a fifth set. "We played pretty solid in the first two sets. A lack of concentration for a short while was good enough for the Slovaks to take the third set, and we were quite fortunate to win in four."

He added that he thought it was a tactical decision by the Slovaks not to play Kucera in the doubles. "I think they thought the doubles match would go the wrong way and wanted to rest Karol. I have a reputation of playing every match and it doesn't bother me to play the fifth rubber if necessary."

A disappointed Hrbaty said that it was not a foregone conclusion that he would play the opening singles against Safin on Sunday. "I was very disappointed with my performance today. It was quite difficult at the beginning for me and I made double faults at crucial moments.

"The balls bounce lower on this surface and I find it difficult to change the direction of my shots. I ended up trying too hard not to make mistakes. There is no reason for Jan not to play tomorrow. Davis Cup is different and rankings do not count."

Miloslav Mecir added that there was "a lot to consider" before confirming his nominations an hour before the start of tomorrow's reverse singles.