Seal Place in Semifinals
06, 2002, Sports Palace "Luzhniki", Moscow, RUS, by
If you want to see Yevgeny Kafelnikov in action, you may need
to be quick. The Russian No. 1 has promised to be true to his
word and retire should his team achieve Davis Cup glory in December.
Today Russia took another step towards that goal by winning
a five-set doubles thriller against Sweden to achieve an unbeatable
3-0 lead in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie
Russia is now set for its third successive home tie in September's
semifinals, should Argentina complete its expected quarterfinal
victory over Croatia. And being a superstitious bunch, there's
every chance that the team will return to the Luzhniki Sports
Palace, which has inspired them to memorable performances
over the last two days.
After overwhelming their opponents in Friday's singles rubbers,
Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin were today forced to dig
deep to win their doubles contest against Jonas Bjorkman and
Thomas Johansson 3-6 7-6 6-7 7-5 6-3. In Bjorkman they faced
a four-time Grand Slam doubles champion, while Johansson possesses
a big serve, and touch on the volley that are the envy of
more seasoned doubles players.
The opening set gave no indication of the three-and-a-half
hour epic that would follow. A single break of Kafelnikov's
serve in the fourth game was enough to give the Swedes the
set 6-3 in 27 minutes. When Bjorkman and Johansson fought
off an early 0-2 deficit down to build up a 4-2 lead in the
second, it looked as though the players would be back in the
locker room before most of the 10,000 spectators had unfurled
But no-one had reckoned on the new-found resilience of the
Russians, who managed to break the previously impregnable
Johansson serve to level the set at 4-4, and the match went
into a nerve-tingling tiebreak. Kafelnikov saved a set point
at 5-6 with an ace, and two points later Johansson sent a
volley wide to see the match tied at one set all.
In the third set it was the Russians' turn to squander an
early advantage. They built up at 3-1 lead, but a poor service
game by Safin allowed the Swedes to level, and almost inevitably
the match progressed towards another tiebreak. This time Bjorkman
and Johansson made no mistake, taking the first two points
of the breaker, which they went on to win 7-2.
Break points were a rare commodity in the fourth set, with
both partnerships enjoying just a single opportunity until
Bjorkman came out to serve at 5-6. A netted volley by Johansson
presented the Russians with set point, and a netted smash
by Bjorkman off a desperate lob by Kafelnikov sent the crowd
Although the Swedes managed to stay with the home team throughout
the early stages of the final set, the momentum had finally
swung Russia's way. Johansson somehow managed to hold serve
from 0-40 to level at 3-3, but two games later Bjorkman dropped
his own delivery, leaving Kafelnikov to serve out for victory.
The crowd was on its feet, perhaps realising that they could
be taking part in an historic campaign.
Afterwards a delighted Kafelnikov said that the Russian team
planned to celebrate in style. "There's an old Russian
proverb. 'Once you've done your deed, relax and enjoy.' We
were really motivated today and gave it one hundred percent.
We knew that if we won the doubles, we wouldn't have to worry
about the singles tomorrow."
His sentiments were echoed by an exuberant Safin. "The
press have often criticised me for partying too much. Well
tonight nobody can criticise me for going out. We really wanted
to finish today and now can enjoy ourselves."
A disappointed Johansson reflected: "We had our chances,
but didn't take them at the right time. We felt we were the
better team for four sets, but they stepped it up really well
in the fifth. Yevgeny returned well throughout the match and
Marat came up with big shots when it mattered."
Just how much partying is done will probably determine which
players take to the court for Sunday's reverse singles. Both
rubbers will now be the best of three sets.