Korda is the hero for Czechs

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Petr Korda, heavily criticised for a poor performance in his opening singles match, became the hero yesterday as the Czech Republic beat the Davis Cup holders, the United States, 3-2 in the World Group quarter-finals in Prague. Korda recovered from his shaky display in Friday's singles against Todd Martin to beat MaliVai Washington in the deciding match, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The Czechs, whose only Davis Cup win was in 1980, will meet Sweden, who have won the Cup five times, in the semi-final from 20 to 22 September. The Swedes beat India 5-0 in Calcutta.

Italy's Renzo Furlan, cheered on by 6,000 fans at Rome's Foro Italico stadium, beat South Africa's Wayne Ferreira 3-6, 6-0, 7-6, 6-2 in two hours 42 minutes to clinch a 4-1 victory. The Italians travel to France, who crushed Germany 5-0 in Limoges.

The Americans admitted they had sent only their third-strength team to Prague because Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and Jim Courier had declined to play.

But non-playing captain Tom Gullikson refused to comment on the absence of the country's best players, nor did he make it an excuse for losing. "They beat us on the tennis court, they played very well and they deserve to win," Gullikson said. "The players that we had here did their best and we can't really worry about who's not here," he added.

Martin beat Daniel Vacek 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the first of Sunday's reverse singles to set up the contest between Korda and Washington, who lost to Vacek on Friday. The two players felt each other out for most of the first set, trading service games until Washington looked to be on the brink of winning it at 6-5.

Korda, injured for most of last year, staved off two set points, broke Washington's serve in the first point of the tie-break and held that advantage to win it 7-5, sending the near-capacity crowd into a frenzy.

Korda then broke service to lead 2-0 in the second set. Washington tried desperately to battle his way back but the Czech's fluid groundstrokes and service returns were too much for him.

At 1-1 in the third set, Korda broke Washington again but the American kept battling. However Korda, ranked No 41 in the world, could do little wrong and he eventually broke Washington again before winning the contest with his sixth ace.

The Czechs had taken a 2-1 lead in Saturday's doubles when Korda and Vacek combined to beat Patrick McEnroe and Patrick Galbraith 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

Scores, Digest, page 23