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Old 02-09-2003, 11:31 PM   #15
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Feb 9, 2003 deciding rubber

Davydenko Arranges Russia's Trip to Argentina with Dramatic Victory

Russia has begun its quest to defend the Davis Cup title in the best way and Nikolay Davydenko is the new Russian tennis hero. Davydenko, ranked No. 62 on the Entry Ranking, won the decisive fifth match of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie between Czech Republic and Russia when he beat Radek Stepanek, ranked No. 55, 16 76(4) 62 36 60.

The match was pretty important for both competitors, each playing the Davis Cup for the first time in their careers. "I am really very happy because this is one of the biggest days of my career. This tie was broadcast to Russia so now everybody at home knows not only Safin, Kafelnikov and Youzhny but also me", Davydenko smiled. It was only his second five-set match and the first he had won. "But it was so hard, not only physically but psychologically. I knew that if I lose my team lose, too."

But it was the Czech player who had a better start to the match. Serving and moving well on the clay court, Stepanek didn't give his opponent many chances in the first set. But Davydenko played very patiently. He gradually played more aggressively and with more power, started to serve well and his forehand was his killer shot. "I was a little bit nervous before the match but not when I stepped on the court. I was just surprised how well Stepanek played in the first set," Davydenko said.

"I felt pretty good at the beginning of the match playing some of my best tennis," Stepanek said. "The important thing was that I didn't convert some break points in the second set." The Czech tried to make Davydenko run but the Russian’s down-the-line shots and targeted angles were too much for him. Stepanek lost the tiebreak of the second set and the next four games in a row. "Davydenko played some incredible shots at that time", he said.

After losing the third set, Stepanek started to play more aggressively, carving a 4-1 lead in the fourth set, and with the support of 5,000 noisy fans behind him he won the set, making Davydenko run with his use of dropshots. But the Czech No. 2 lost all his energy and courage in the deciding set. No longer taking risks, he couldn't succeed with Davydenko making hardly any mistakes towards the end of the match.

The 60 result of the fifth set was probably too cruel for the home team – all the Czech Republic’s losses in Davis Cup since 1998 have been in a decisive fifth rubber.

Russia will play the quarterfinals in Argentina and Davydenko is an optimist. "Everybody in Russia thinks that we don't have a chance but I don't agree. Together with Marat Safin and Mikhail Youzhny we are a pretty strong team although Yevgeny Kafelnikov doesn't want to play singles in Davis Cup any more.”
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