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France puts U.S. in Davis Cup hole

Sept. 20, 2002 at 3:55 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake both lost their singles matches to defending champion France Friday to put the United States on the brink of elimination from the Davis Cup semifinals.

Playing on the famed clay courts of Roland Garros, Roddick fell to Arnaud Clement, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. Blake then lost to Sebastien Grosjean, 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (7-9), 7-5.

The 20-year-old Roddick is considered the United States' best prospect after Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi retire. A two-time winner on the ATP tour this season, Roddick has been particularly tough in Davis Cup action, going 7-0 before Friday.

"I am extremely disappointed to have lost," Roddick said. "It hurts, but at the same time I tried my best and did not let him win the game. I did not play badly but Clement made spectacular shots at the right moment and this is what made the difference because I think that, as a whole, we both played at a great level."

Sampras and Agassi, who squared off in the final of the U.S. Open two weeks ago, did not make themselves available for Davis Cup.

Clement defeated Roddick for the second time in as many meetings and improved to 6-5 lifetime in Davis Cup.

"This is definitely one of my best matches on clay," said Clement, the 2001 Australian Open finalist. "As far as joy and enjoyment are concerned, it's the best of my career."

Blake suffered his first Davis Cup defeat in six singles matches and his second to Grosjean at Roland Garros this year. He lost their previous meeting in the second round of the French Open in May.

"It's the first time I've felt this way," Blake said. "Now I know how bad it feels. But I'm an extremely competitive person and all the hard work I didn't feel like doing in the gym won't feel as tough anymore having known this."

Blake also lamented his missed opportunities.

"It's the most disappointed I've ever been in myself in my life," Blake said. "I have to find a way to forget it and I hope I have the opportunity to play a fifth match and make up for this."

The United States owns the record for the most Davis Cup titles with 31, but has not triumphed since 1995 and now looks to the doubles pair of Todd Martin and Mardy Fish to keep the team alive. They take on Fabrice Santoro and Michael Llodra in Saturday's doubles.

Grosjean, considered doubtful for the competition after sustaining a back injury in practice last week, put France closer to advancing to its third final in the last four years.

"We prepared very well for that clash even if I did not train for two days because of my back," Grosjean said. "And today, even if I was not at 100 percent of my potential, the joy of playing on that mythical court in front of such a great crowd took off any of the little pains I could have had."

In the other semifinal tie, Russia took a 2-0 lead over Argentina at Moscow's Luzhniki Sports Palace.

After Marat Safin recorded a 6-7 (1-7), 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 triumph over Juan Ignacio Chela, Yevgeny Kafelnikov saved two match points against Gaston Gaudio, rallying for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 2-6, 8-6 win.

Kafelnikov seemingly took the command of the match when he took a two sets to one lead. Even after dropping the fourth set, the 28-year-old Russian owned a 2-0 advantage in the deciding set.

But Kafelnikov dropped five straight games before recovering to win five games in a row and six of the last seven to put Russia one match win away from its third Davis Cup final.

"Honestly, I didn't know what was going on after I lost five straight games," Kafelnikov said after the four-hour, seven-minute match. "In the end I was very fortunate to come away with a victory. Saving two match points at 2-5 down in the fifth set it's like saving a penalty kick from three meters. Boris Yeltsin told me afterwards that I almost gave him his sixth heart attack with my play."

"I feel like a huge burden is now off the team," he added. "It is much nicer to be leading 2-0 than to be level at 1-1. Today I lost control at 2-1 in the final set and didn't know what I was doing. I then calmed down at 2-5 and good fortune was on my side."

Gaudio, who received medical treatment on his left leg in the middle of the 12th game of the final set, felt he was the victim of an incorrect call on match point at 5-2 when his ace was called out by the umpire.

"I definitely saw the ball in. It was difficult for me to get over that as I knew that I needed only one point to win," Gaudio said. "The leg cramps also bothered me a lot, and I couldn't play the last game of the match."

In Saturday's doubles, Kafelnikov and Safin will try to clinch it against doubles specialist Lucas Arnold and Wimbledon singles finalist David Nalbandian.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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