Tennis: Aussies close in on Cup

MARK WOODFORDE and Todd Woodbridge staged a spirited comeback to beat France's Fabrice Santoro and Olivier Delaitre yesterday and take Australia to within one match of winning the Davis Cup.

Their 2-6 7-5 6-2 6-2 win in Nice silenced the French fans and gave Australia a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five final. Mark Philippoussis will win the trophy for Australia if he beats Cedric Pioline in the first of the reverse singles this afternoon. Lleyton Hewitt faces Sebastien Grosjean in the final match.

Woodforde and Woodbridge used all their experience to claw back the match after the French pair were just one point away from taking a two-set lead. Both teams knew the importance of the match: since 1978 the winners of the doubles in the Davis Cup final have gone on to lift the trophy.

Initially the thunderous support that unnerved Grosjean on Friday served only to inspire the French, who raced to a 4-0 first-set lead, Santoro's deft lob to break Woodbridge's serve indicating their early dominance. Santoro and Delaitre, who have won five doubles titles, looked unstoppable taking the first set in just 38 minutes and moving to a 4-2 second-set lead.

In the fourth game of the second set, the crowd was brought to its feet when Delaitre won a point with an instinctive volley played from behind his back. But the Australians refused to buckle, saving four set points at 2-4 and a set point when Santoro was serving for the second set at 5-4. The Woodies broke serve again to take the second set before dominating the third to the delight of a large contingent of Australian fans decked in green and gold.

Santoro's service faltered in the third game of the fourth set and, despite the fervent home support, the visiting team eased to victory, Woodforde sealing the win with a smart high backhand volley.

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