Tennis : Advantage switches to Sweden

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The Independent Online
Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti overcame the South African doubles team in five sets to give Sweden a 2-1 lead in their World Group Davis Cup quarter-final in Vaxjo, Sweden, yesterday.

Playing in the home town of the former tennis great Mats Wilander, the Swedes beat Ellis Ferreira and David Adams 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-2. The match, played on a medium-fast surface, took more than three hours. Bjorkman, born in this southern city where he started playing at the age of six and still belongs to the city's biggest tennis club, improved his Davis Cup doubles record to 10 wins against two losses. He lost the singles to Wayne Ferreira in four sets on Friday after the world No 7 Thomas Enqvist had put the Swedes ahead. Enqvist can clinch the best-of-five match series in today's first reverse singles when he plays Wayne Ferreira.

Sweden, who have a 4-1 record against South Africa in Davis Cup play, have won the tournament five times in 10 finals since 1975. Their last victory was in 1994 over Russia (4-1) in Moscow. Last year Sweden lost at home to France, 3-2.

Jim Courier rallied from two sets down to beat Jan Siemerink 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3 on Friday to give the United States a 2-0 lead over Holland in their cup quarter-final tie. Courier needed three hours, 24 minutes to beat Siemerink and put the Americans within sight of a semi-final clash with Australia. The two-time French and Australian Open champion had never recovered from a two-set deficit in 25 instances on tour and in Davis Cup. His cup record stands at 12 wins against seven losses.

"Jim showed the heart of a champion and at the big moments of the match he really stepped up," said the US captain Tom Gullikson. "That's why the guy has won four Grand Slam titles and has been No 1 in the world."

In the opening singles, Andre Agassi won his 14th straight Davis Cup match, pounding out a 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 hard-court win over Sjeng Schalken in windy conditions. Agassi, who has been mired in a bad slump, improved his cup record to 23-4. Agassi, loser of four successive opening-round matches on tour, was delighted. "It was great today." said Agassi. "It went right according to plan."

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde recovered from a sluggish start yesterday to beat the Czech Republic's David Rikl and Martin Damm in four sets and seal Australia's semi-final place. Woodbridge and Woodforde, the world's top-ranked team, defeated the makeshift combination of Rikl and Damm 4- 6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 and moved Australia into a winning 3-0 lead.

The Australian pair, winners of eight Grand Slam titles, dropped the first set after a shaky Woodbridge twice lost his serve, but then settled into their game. The Czechs originally nominated Rikl and inexperienced Pavel Vizner as their doubles combination, but elected to replace Vizner with Damm in a bid to keep their hopes alive.

Instead, Woodbridge and Woodforde played with their customary assurance, racing to a 4-1 in the second set before a brief rain delay and then wrapping it up when they broke Rikl's serve for the second time.

Pat Rafter and Mark Philippoussis scored singles wins on Friday to put the Australians in command. Rafter scored a 6-1, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Damm and Philippoussis overpowered the late replacement Rikl 6-1, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Australia have won the Davis Cup 26 times, second only to the United States' 31. The Czech Republic went into the contest as an underdog after the retirement from cup play of stalwart Petr Korda and the unavailability of Bohdan Ulihrach, Daniel Vacek and Slava Dosedel. Jiri Novak, their No 2 singles player, was then forced to withdraw from the singles with a viral infection and was replaced by Rikl. The reverse singles will be played today but will be reduced to the best of three sets.

Goran Ivanisevic and Sasha Hirszon defeated Austria's Thomas Muster and Udo Plamberger yesterday to keep Croatia's chances alive in a Euro-African Zone Group One cup tie. Austria lead 2-1 after Croatia swept the doubles in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. On yesterday's form, the Muster-Ivanisevic showdown could go the Croat's way tomorrow. Ivanisevic conceded the first singles of the tie on Friday, hobbling off the court with leg cramps in the fifth set against Gilbert Schaller.