Sampras gamble swings final

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The Independent Online
PETE SAMPRAS and Todd Martin gave the United States a 2-1 lead in the Davis Cup final yesterday by beating Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Olkhovsky 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 in the doubles.

Worried about needing to win both matches today in front of a hostile crowd, the American captain, Tom Gullikson, called on Sampras for extra duty just two hours before the match, putting the world No 1 in for Richey Reneberg, a last-minute addition to the team himself with Andre Agassi unable to play owing to a lingering chest injury.

Sampras, who was carried off court with severe cramp after he beat Andrei Chesnokov in a five-set match on Friday, showed no sign of injury and served several aces.

Things began promisingly for the Russians when Martin dropped his service in the first game. But Kafelnikov failed to hold his own serve at 4-3 and was broken again to give the American pair the set.

At 4-4 in the second set with Martin serving, the Russians squandered two break points. With Olkhovsky serving to stay in the set and 40-15 ahead, Kafelnikov netted a backhand return. The Americans took the set 6-4.

The Russians collapsed to 5-1 down in the third set, which they eventually lost 6-3. The match, played before a fiercely partisan crowd, took less than two hours.

The 21-year-old Kafelnikov, the golden boy of Russian tennis and ranked sixth in the world, walked despondently from the court at the end. He now faces Sampras in the reverse singles today and Chesnokov plays Jim Courier, who lost to Kafelnikov in straight sets on Friday.

Gullikson later revealed he had decided to play Sampras just 30 minutes before the deadline for naming the pairings, but it was not a surprise move. "Pete and Todd have played together before and with two big servers on clay, it makes it a lot easier to hold serve," he said.

Sampras said he and Gullikson had discussed whether he might play in the doubles late on Friday. "I said that if I woke up feeling good and had a good warm-up and was fit enough, I would play. It was his call and I was just prepared to do whatever it takes."

He said he had eaten high- protein steak and mashed potatoes to overcome the effects of the cramp. "I was a little bit stiff today but once you start playing and competing, the adrenalin kicks in," he said.

Gullikson said the US team now had a good chance of taking the cup. "That win gets our nose in front and gives us two chances to win tomorrow. With Pete Sampras and Jim Courier playing tomorrow I feel good about our chances."

Olkhovsky acknowledged that the presence of Sampras had been crucial. "Sampras has a very powerful serve and probably they bet on it, and it proved to be true," he said. Kafelnikov said he had underestimated the Americans, who won at Queen's earlier this year. "Playing the Davis Cup is real pressure," he said. "From the first round to the final, it gets greater and greater."