wins it for the Russians
10, 2002, Olympic Stadium, Moscow, RUS, by Jo Sirman
Marat Safin ended Swiss hopes in Moscow with a straight sets
victory over Michel Kratochvil 61 76(6) 64, winning the fifth
point for his country and putting Russia into the next round
of the 2002 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. It was the Australian
Open runner-up's first Davis Cup singles victory in five matches
and his third win in a decisive fifth rubber.
The young Russian reflected on a weekend of fluctuating fortunes
in which his country eventually got the right result. "It's
a team competition. Sometimes you play better, sometimes you
play worse in Davis Cup... we were very nervous because it
was a very important match... I didn't want to lose at home.
I tried my best and in the end I was lucky."
The hosts' happiness was tinged with relief following Kafelnikov's
straight sets loss to Roger Federer in the fourth rubber.
The Russian No. 1 was unable to explain his curious slump
in the second and third sets. "It's just unlucky circumstances.
There was just a whole lot of circumstances that prevented
me from playing well today."
Russia will play Sweden in the quarterfinals, following their
3-2 defeat of Great Britain in Birmingham, and has the luxury
of another home tie. Captain Shamil Tarpischev confirmed that
this would also be played in Moscow.
Safin was dominant from the outset of the decisive rubber
but Kratochvil, the older of the pair by nine months, never
stopped fighting. The 22-year-old from Bern was one of last
year's most improved players, and it was not hard to see why
on Sunday in the Olympic Stadium. Kratochvil is reminiscent
of Hewitt in style and pace, and with his frequent shouts
of 'come on!' at crucial moments.
The Swiss bench had little time to be euphoric following
Federer's stunning win before Kratochvil had lost the first
set and, it seemed, would slide to an early defeat. The opener
lasted just 22 minutes and the Swiss was unable to get on
the scoreboard until the sixth game, losing 61.
Two forehand errors from Safin gave Kratochvil the first
break in the second set, and he took a 4-1 lead to the sound
of Swiss cheers and cowbells. At that point Kratochvil had
another point to break, but a Becker-style lunge on a volley
from Safin saved the point and the Russian held serve. Afterwards
Kratochvil acknowledged that this was "a key moment"
in the match. Instead of being two breaks up, he lost his
own serve two game later, missing an easy smash to open the
door to Safin. In an angry tenth game, where there were several
disputed line calls, the Swiss player had further opportunities
but it came down to a tense tiebreak.
With Kafelnikov on his feet urging Safin on, the Russian
No. 2 got to set point at 6-5, but double faulted to give
Kratochvil a glimmer of hope. The moment quickly passed however
as Safin won the next two points and the set, Kratochvil throwing
his racket down in anger.
Swiss resolve was not broken in the third set, and Kratochvil
broke Safin in the third game, but victory for the hosts was
within reach. The Russian clinched the vital break back with
a blistering forehand return before breaking again two games
later to seal the match and the tie 61 76(6) 64. The stadium
erupted in cheers of delight tinged with relief, after three
days of at times erratic but ultimately better tennis from
their team. It had been close and they knew it.
It was a hard loss for Kratochvil to take in his most important
match to date in Davis Cup. "I played a good match against
Kafelnikov, I did my part for the team. Roger made two points
and I absolutely wanted this one, but I wasn't hitting the
ball as clean and hard as on Friday." Having improved
so much recently, he is hopeful that Switzerland will come
through in years to come. "We are a good team and a very
young team, so I think the future looks bright."
Federer, who chose to play in Moscow in a red shirt to represent
Swiss colours, agreed with his team mate that their country's
time will come. "For myself and my singles matches there
was some great tennis from me this weekend. I couldn't have
expected much more. I would have loved to win the doubles
but they played very well... in the end it was just tough
that we lost the tie."
Switzerland must now play in the Davis Cup World Group Qualifying
Round in September, which will determine if the nation continues
to play in the World Group next year. The team will find out
its opponent at the Draw, which takes place on 10 April.
As the Russians celebrated, Kafelnikov already had one eye
on the next round. "Now I can't wait until we play 6-8