Russia Comes Back to Win Davis Cup

Sunday December 01, 2002

First Davis Cup Trophy comes with the help of two singles wins by Safin and five-set thriller by Youzhny.

Russia pulled off a historic and stunning victory over France in the Davis Cup Final Sunday at the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy to win its first Davis Cup trophy.

The most unlikely hero of the weekend was 20-year-old Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who was a ball boy the last time Russia played in the Davis Cup final back in 1995.

Substituting for veteran Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who was overcome with exhaustion following his five-set doubles match on Saturday, Youzhny came from two sets down to defeat Paul-Henri Mathieu in the fifth and deciding match, stunning the crowd of 15,000 that included former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

French President Jacques Chirac also attended matches during the three-day competition.

It was a fitting finish to a roller coaster weekend of tennis and drama played out on the special red clay court set up in the Palais Omnisports, where just over a month ago Marat Safin was crowned champion at the BNP Paribas Masters.

Safin would again find success indoors in Paris this weekend. His opening match victory over Mathieu got Russia going early and his victory over Sebastien Grosjean on Sunday started Russia back on its comeback after being down 2-1 following the doubles match on Saturday.

France had history on its side. In every final since 1978, the team winning the doubles point has gone on to win the Davis Cup. France had also never lost a Davis Cup Final when leading going into the final day.

But history didn't matter to Safin or Youzhny, who became the first man in the 102 years of the Davis Cup competition to come back from a two set deficit in the fifth match of the final. It was also Youzhny's first meaningful Davis Cup victory in his career. He was 1-4 before the match with his only victory coming in a meaningless dead rubber.

"We decided to put Mikhail because Yevgeny was tired after the doubles," said Safin. "He couldn't play today, so we decided to put the young player. Why not?"

"Probably my ego was saying that I should play, but realistically I felt like he [Youzhny] was going to give the best effort than I could," said Kafelnikov. "You know, lately he was playing well, and I wasn't."

Perhaps making the decision easier for Russian coach Shamil Tarpishev has been Youzhny's solid play this season. Last month, he reached the final at the St. Petersburg Open and earlier this year captured his first ATP title at the Stuttgart Outdoors.

For Safin, the win ranks up with some of his best tennis moments. "I'm so happy, I'm so glad. I cannot describe what I'm feeling right now. It's just something that is just so great, it's the best."

Youzhny himself seemed shocked by the moment. "I don't understand what's happens. I just know we're winning. I was very glad after the match."

For the team veteran, 28-year-old Kafelnikov, a few days of reflection are needed before he announces whether he will continue to play professionally. The former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion had said this fall that he would retire if he helped his country win its first Davis Cup trophy.

But he was non-committal after the match. "Let me explain once again. It's very enjoyable moment for me right now. I do respect what I said before. Like I told you, the final decision will be made throughout next week."