Tennis: Clean sweep for top Swede

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The Independent Online
JONAS BJORKMAN and Nicklas Kulti kept their two-year, unbeaten doubles record intact yesterday to take the holders Sweden into their third consecutive Davis Cup final.

Bjorkman and Kulti gave Sweden an unbeatable 3-0 lead over Spain in their World Group semi-final, beating Javier Sanchez and Julian Alonso 6-2 6-2 6-2. The Spaniards tried to take the offensive from the start but Bjorkman, who opened the tie with a win over Alex Corretja in the singles on Friday, kept them off balance.

The first set went with serve for four games, then the Swedes took four games in a row to wrap up the set in 23 minutes. The second set followed a similar path with two breaks hampering Spain's hopes of their first final in 31 years. Several unforced errors allowed Bjorkman and Kulti to break at the start of the final set.

The United States paid a heavy price for not persuading their best players to take part in the Cup when they conceded a 2-0 lead to Italy on the first day of their semi-final in Milwaukee. The world No 1 Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang all refused to play.

A Davis Cup debutant, Jan-Michael Gambill, and veteran Todd Martin both lost. Andrea Gaudenzi beat Gambill 6-2, 0-6, 7-6, 7-6 and then Martin fell in straight sets to Davide Sanguinetti 7-6, 6-3, 7-6. "It's like a superstition this year, Gaudenzi played the first match every tie and won, so it's good it continued," Sanguinetti said.

The United States have lifted the Cup 31 times but have recovered a 2- 0 deficit just once, in 1934 against Australia.

The 28th-ranked Martin did prevent Sanguinetti, ranked 47, from serving out at 5-4 in the third set and then saved four match points in the tie- break.

Gambill admitted to a serious case of nerves on his debut. "I don't think I played that well," he said. "I don't think I served very well the entire day. I was way too nervous at the start."

The United States hoped Martin would win three points, in both singles matches and Saturday's doubles with Justin Gimelstob. But Sanguinetti, whose Cup singles record is now 4-1, played precision tennis from the start and nothing Martin tried could turn the tide.

Gambill's failure was highly frustrating to the newcomer, who committed 66 unforced errors. "I think this is a lot more disappointing to lose this match than any that I have ever played," he said. After nine match points in the fourth set - three on Gambill's serve in the 10th game, four in the 12th and one on his serve in the tie-break - Gaudenzi won in three hours and three minutes.

The final will be staged over the weekend of 4-6 December.