Safin Sweeps Grosjean To Even Davis Cup Final 2-2

Sunday December 01, 2002
By Richard Pagliaro

Marat Safin carried a country's hopes for its first Davis Cup championship on his shoulders when he stepped onto the red clay court at the Palais Omnisports in Paris today. And in the end, that responsibility to win for Russia is what helped carry Safin to victory.

Playing with poise under the pressure of potential elimination, Safin swept Sebastien Grosjean 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (13-11) in the first of today's reverse singles matches to even the Davis Cup tie between Russia and defending-champion France, 2-2.

"I was praying to finish in three sets," said Safin, who was playing his third match in three days. "Just when was everything finished, I was so happy. I didn't have to go to the fourth set because you never know how it can finish. He started to play well. Also, my physical condition, I was getting tired already. I wanted to finish in three sets. I was lucky that I could make it."

Safin's victory set the stage for a fifth and decisive match between France's Paul-Henri Mathieu and 32nd-ranked Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who was named as a late replacement for veteran Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Former French Open champion Kafelnikov, who has surgery scheduled for tomorrow to repair a vein in his leg, has performed poorly in suffering a straight-set loss to Grosjean in Friday's singles match. Kafelnikov partnered with Safin in yesterday's four-set doubles defeat to the French team of Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro.

"We decided to put Mikhail because Yevgeny was tired after the doubles," Safin said. "He couldn't play today, so we decided to put the young player (to play the match). Why not? We'll see if he can manage to win, at least show great tennis."

Despite Kafelnikov's recent struggles on clay, the decision to start Youzhny is a bit of a risk by Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev. Today's decisive match marks Youzhny's debut in a live Davis Cup match. Mathieu is not exactly a Davis Cup veteran either: he made his Davis Cup debut in Friday's singles setback to Safin.

The former top-ranked Safin dominated Grosjean in their previous Parisian meeting on red clay at Roland Garros last spring. The Russian recalled the tactics he used in that match as a factor in today's triumph.

"Last time we played in Roland Garros, I won. I just understood how I have to play against him," Safin said. "It also gave me some kind of confidence that I can beat him. Already I knew from the beginning what I have to do, when I have to do. I was also a little bit lucky at some point of the match."

The gritty Grosjean refused to give up and made a late charge in the third set, but ultimately lacked the weapons to stop Safin.

"It's true that in the third set I had many opportunities," Grosjean said. "But even in the third set, he played at a very high level. I was able to maintain the lead. I really wanted to win this third set to see what he was going to do in the fourth set, but I believe he played a very great match. He was impressive with everything: service, returns, from the baseline, he was hitting off both sides. When he plays like that, he's very difficult to beat."