Bids To End Losing Streak
04, 2002, Sports Palace "Luzhniki", Moscow, RUS, by
If Russia is to go on and win its first Davis Cup title, it
will first have to end another losing streak this weekend when
it takes on Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Davis Cup
by BNP Paribas in Moscow.
The Russians have lost all four previous encounters against
Sweden, most recently in last year's quarterfinals, where
they were outplayed 4-1 in Malmo. With Marat Safin out through
injury, Yevgeny Kafelnikov was unable to shoulder the burden
singlehanded, and the Swedes wrapped up victory with a day
If anything it is the Swedes who are understrength on this
occasion. Their most successful clay court player Magnus Norman
has only recently returned to the tour after undergoing surgery
on his left hip, and is not yet ready for a test such as this.
And it is on clay that this three-day tie will be played,
a surface on which Kafelnikov has won Roland Garros and Safin
has won two other titles.
In contrast the Swedish No. 1 Thomas Johansson has never
progressed beyond the second round at Roland Garros, but the
27-year-old from Linkoping is currently riding the crest of
a wave having stunned the tennis world by capturing the Australian
Open in January for his first Grand Slam title. He then came
back from injury to defeat Greg Rusedski in the deciding fifth
rubber of Sweden's first round Davis Cup victory over Great
Britain in Birmingham.
Johansson will be looking to take what he sees as a mental
edge into the opening singles rubber against Safin, his Australian
Open final victim. "We have played four times, but never
on clay so it will be a completely different game with a lot
of ralleys. I am sure he still remembers the last match, so
hopefully I have a little bit of an advantage."
Safin remains something of an enigma in tennis, combining
the sort of brilliance which saw him capture the 2000 US Open
title with form that has seen him win only one of his last
six Davis Cup singles rubbers. Fortunately for Safin, and
for Russia, that one win came in the fifth rubber of its first
round meeting with Switzerland, when he overcame Michel Kratochvil
in straight sets to seal a place in the quarterfinals.
The Russian No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov boasts a more impressive
29-13 career singles record in Davis Cup, and he will be looking
to improve those statistics against Thomas Enqvist in the
day's second singles rubber. Like Johansson, most of Enqvist's
successes have come on faster surfaces, but he was the hero
of Sweden's first round victory, recording straight sets victories
over Rusedski and Tim Henman.
Carl-Axel Hageskog, Sweden's long-time captain, admitted
that the surface did favour the home team. "This is certainly
not our best surface. However the court is faster indoors
and suits anyone with a good serve and good groundstrokes.
My team have all played a lot on clay since a young age and
I don't think it will be a problem for them."
So the stage is set for a fascinating quarterfinal between
a team with a history of long term success in Davis Cup and
a team desperate to become part of that history.
As Kafelnikov himself said: "I have achieved most of
the goals in tennis, Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal,
becoming World No. 1. The one thing left to give me full satisfaction
is to win the Davis Cup."
Saturday's doubles sees the experienced Davis Cup pairing
of Kafelnikov and Safin drawn to face Jonas Bjorkman and Johansson,
who made a losing debut against Great Britain. In Sunday's
reverse singles, Kafelnikov is first up against Johansson,
followed by Safin versus Enqvist.
Both captains are able to make late substitutions on either
day, taking into account the results to date and the physical
condition of the players. Hageskog used that tactic most effectively
in Sweden's victory over Great Britain, but Kafelnikov and
Safin are long used to playing on all three days. Whether
they need to remains to be seen.