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Site, surface key to Davis Cup outcomes


Monday, February 3, 2003 – Page S4

One of the greatest attributes of tennis's four Grand Slam tournaments is that the sites and surfaces of the events are well established and known by everyone.

Competitors are able to prepare accordingly, and there is little opportunity to stack the odds in favour of one player over another.

That is not at all the case in Davis Cup, where the alternating system of home and away ties often has a dramatic effect on the outcome.

Being at home (by virtue of having played away against the opponent in the previous meeting) has obvious advantages, foremost of which is the right to choose the surface.

This coming weekend, site and surface will be vital in several opening-round ties (best-of-five match series) as the 2003 16-nation World Group begins play.

It is probably no accident that 2002's finalists, Russia and France, played every single tie (three rounds) at home before the Russians travelled to Paris for the final, which they won 3-2 in memorable fashion as little-known Mikhail Youzhny defeated Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in a five-set thriller.

Marat Safin, the winner's linch pin in 2002, is nursing a left-wrist injury and won't be available when Russia travels to Ostrava to meet the Czech Republic on an indoor clay surface this weekend.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who talked about retiring last year, is still very much in the picture. After reaching the ATP event final (losing 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 to Dutchman Martin Verkerk) in Milan, Italy, yesterday, Kafelnikov will be front and centre against the Czechs, who will rely on the solid Jiri Novak along with Radek Stepanek and doubles players Martin Damm and Cyril Suk.

It is not inconceivable Russia will lose and be out of this year's event a mere nine weeks after the glory of December 2, 2002, in Paris.

Safin is not the only wounded warrior whose absence could influence his country's chances.

Andy Roddick, bothered by tendinitis that resulted partly from his 21-19 fifth set win over Younes El Aynaoui at the Australian Open, is unavailable for an American team now led by James Blake (along with a youth movement consisting of Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish and Robbie Genepri) that goes to play on indoor carpet in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Croats will be favoured, with Ivan Ljubicic, promising Mario Ancic and, returning from shoulder surgery, Goran Ivanisevic, who will only play doubles.

If the Americans win, their prospects will still be less than promising, as they probably will then have a second-round away tie with powerhouse Spain coming at them.

This weekend, at home in Seville, Spain's clay-court heavyweights, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa and Alex Corretja, should be too much for Belgium.

In other match-ups, Brazil's hopes lie with Gustavo Kuerten in Helsingborg, Sweden; Roger Federer leads the Swiss against a well-balanced Dutch team in Arnhem, the Netherlands; Germany (with Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler but without injured Tommy Haas and Nicolas Kiefer) has little chance on clay versus Argentina in Buenos Aires; and France, with Sebastien Grosjean and Nicolas Escude playing singles, goes to Bucharest to play on indoor carpet (lent by the French Federation) to take on a cash-strapped Romanian team headed by Andrei Pavel and Adrian Voinea.

Injuries to the top three Britons, Tim Henman (shoulder), Greg Rusedski (foot) and Martin Lee (knee), have the visitors in desperate shape as they face an Australian powerhouse team led by world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis.

The British lineup is Arvind Parmar, Alex Bogdanovic, Miles Maclagan and Alan Mackin.

To think Australia went to the trouble of installing red clay on top of the Rebound Ace surface at Sydney's Homebush (Olympic tennis) stadium. At the time, Rusedski's competitive record with Hewitt made the hosts want to take no chances with a faster surface.

Now, clad in their green and yellow colours (effective in 2003 each country's players must wear the same uniforms), the Australians could be playing on coal in Newcastle and still emerge not the slightest bit blackened.
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