Safin up first against Federer as Moscow draw is made

Feb 07, 2002, Olympic Stadium, Moscow, RUS, by Jo Sirman

Australian Open runner-up Marat Safin will open Russia's campaign to win the 2002 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas when he faces Roger Federer in the opening rubber of the Moscow tie on Friday. Switzerland has chosen Michel Kratochvil as its second singles player, and he will take on Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the second rubber.

The opening clash between two of this season's in-form players has all the makings of a classic. It will be only the second time that Safin and Federer have met, but it was the Swiss player who prevailed at the Tennis Masters Series event in Rome when they played in the second round there last year. Psychologically this is good news for Federer, since the Russians have chosen to play on the same surface - clay - at the Olympic Stadium.

"Getting used to the clay is tough for both teams in the middle of the indoor season," Federer pointed out however. "It's going to be who's better mentally." Having already appeared in two finals this year, winning the title in Sydney and losing in Milan last weekend, Federer says that his body feels fine and he is ready to go: "confidence is as important as feeling fit."

Mental advantage could be on the side of the Russians when it comes to Friday's second match. With Switzerland choosing the rapidly improving Michel Kratochvil for singles duty, Kafelnikov has escaped a meeting with nemesis Marc Rosset, a man against whom he has a losing 4-10 record and describes as "uncomfortable" for him to play.

Kafelnikov defeated the 22-year-old Kratochvil in their only previous meeting at last year's US Open, but says the absence of Rosset "doesn't mean my match with Kratochvil will be an easy one". Kratochvil has only played one other live Davis Cup match, losing to Jan-Michael Gambill in Switzerland's first round defeat of the United States last year. He seems confident nonetheless. "It's a challenge. We're not the favorites but our team is great, we practice well this week. We have a chance to make a good result here this week."

Kafelnikov and Safin will also team up in the doubles against Federer and veteran Rosset, although the pairings could change up to one hour before play on Saturday. Likewise Sunday's scheduled meetings between Kafelnikov and Federer then Safin and Kratochvil could alter, although it seems unlikely that, barring injury, Russia would make any team changes if the tie is still live. The hosts made one change however ahead of Thursday's draw, replacing Andrei Stoliarov with 31-year-old veteran Andrei Cherkasov in their team of four.

At lot has changed - not least the name and boundaries of the host country - since these two nations last played each other, casting doubt over the significance of Switzerland's 2-0 advantage in previous encounters with Russia, or the USSR as it then was. They last met in Davos, Switzerland in 1991, with both Cherkasov and Rosset part of a tie that was won by the home team 3-2. Prior to that Russia hosted the Swiss in Donetsk in 1987, the tie slipping away from them in the decisive fifth rubber.

Kafelnikov has made it clear that bringing the Davis Cup trophy home to Russia would complete his career and rate alongside his two Grand Slam titles and Olympic Gold medal. In addition to its No. 1 player's determination, Russia, twice a finalist in the competition but never the champion, can add the chance of enough home advantage this year to help that dream become a reality.

The hosts know though that Switzerland will be a tricky opponent, with Federer capable of inspiring his teammates to great things. In last year's first round tie against the United States in Basle, the Swiss 20-year-old played some inspirational tennis, winning all three of his matches to lift his country to a 3-2 victory. Kratochvil has already been a semi-finalist in Auckland this year, while Rosset, despite his sliding ranking, has a 36-19 record in Davis Cup. Russian Captain Shamil Tarpischev is expecting some close matches in Moscow.

At stake for the winner of this tie is a quarterfinal meeting with either Great Britain or Sweden, who face off in Birmingham this weekend.