Russians Look Ahead to Semifinals

Apr 07, 2002, Sports Palace "Luzhniki", Moscow, RUS, by Nick Imison

With Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin both electing to recover from their night of celebrations, Russia was forced to call upon its reserve guard for dead rubber duty in Moscow today. In fact Kafelnikov was conspicuously absent courtside as Russia went on to complete a 4-1 victory over Sweden in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie.

Swedish No. 1 Thomas Johansson overpowered 19-year-old Mikhail Youzhny 6-3 6-4, before Andreas Vinciguerra was forced to retire with a back injury against Andrei Stoliarov, with the score at 4-6 5-2 in the Russian's favour.

For Johansson, the win came as a timely boost at the start of the punishing European clay court circuit. "I was disappointed after yesterday's doubles, but I really wanted to win this match against a good player such as Youzhny. Normally you only practise on clay for a couple of days after the hard court season, so this has been the best preparation for all of us."

Afterwards Swedish Captain Carl-Axel Hageskog gave some indication that he might be ready to step down after a successful eight years at the helm. He said: "I have a feeling like a very good dinner. There is a little bit still on the plate, but I am satisfied. If we can find someone who can take over from me, then I would be happy."

Russian thoughts have already turned to the Davis Cup semifinals in September, and a likely home clash with Argentina, who are expected to complete a quarterfinal victory over Croatia in Buenos Aires later today.

Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev admitted that the surface for the semifinal tie would "not be a slow one", with carpet the most likely choice for a clash with the clay-loving Argentines. The Russians have been so happy with the reception they have received at the Luzhniki Sports Palace, that they have spoken of returning here in September rather than electing the more cavernous surroundings of the Olympic Stadium, the traditional home of Russian Davis Cup tennis.

Yesterday the talk was all about retirement, with Kafelnikov confirming his intention to call it a day should Russia become only the 11th nation to capture the coveted Davis Cup trophy in December. "You think I'm joking about retirement, but I'm serious about it," he told the assembled press after Russia's memorable doubles victory. "Tennis fans should come and watch the next tie against Argentina, as each time there will be fewer chances to see me play at home."
The Russian No. 1 has long spoken of his wish to bow out whilst still at the top of his game, and had some strong words to say about Pete Sampras following the American's surprise singles defeat by Alex Corretja on grass in their quarterfinal tie against Spain. "I think Pete should think of quitting. His loss (in Houston) should tell him something and I think it is a disrespect to himself to keep playing."
Only time will tell whether the outspoken Kafelnikov is prepared to lead by example, and the winners of today's Argentina-Croatia clash will want to have their say in the matter come September.