Tennis: Australia victorious as Rafter hits back

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD No 2 Pat Rafter staged a thrilling fightback to beat America's Todd Martin and send Australia through to the Davis Cup semi- finals.

Rafter won 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in Brookline, Massachusetts, to give his team an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five match and a semi- final place against Russia.

An American bid to have the Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras replace Martin - who was said to be ill - against the two-time US Open champion was denied by neutral doctor Rich Paul. Paul may have suspected an attempt to subvert Cup rules, a notion later supported by the American's heroic effort in giving a mighty fight to Rafter, who only learned his foe's identity 20 minutes before the match.

"I was starting to get pretty fed up. I wanted to know who the hell I was playing," Rafter said. "He looked very pale at the beginning. But he came out firing and I knew I had a battle on my hands."

If Martin did not have heat exhaustion before the match, he almost certainly did after playing for more than three hours in sweltering conditions against a man set to become world No 1 in eight days. Martin smacked a forehand service return winner to break Rafter and then held for a 3-0 lead in the fifth set. Martin gave back the break in the fifth game and the weary men traded breaks in games six and seven.

Rafter held to level at 4-4, took advantage of a Martin double fault with a backhand smash winner to break his opponent and held serve to send Australia into September's semi-final.

US captain Tom Gullikson said Martin was suffering from exhaustion after a pre-match workout with court temperatures at 50C. "After 15 or 20 minutes of practice, he was suffering from the effects of the heat. He had heat exhaustion and clearly could not play," Gullikson said.

Cedric Pioline played flawless tennis to beat Gustavo Kuerten 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and give France an unbeatable 3-1 lead over Brazil in their quarter- final. They eventually won 3-2.

France, who have won the trophy twice in the 1990s, are at home again in the semi-final against Belgium.