Tennis: Forum battle ends in agony for Gaudenzi

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FOR ALMOST 100 years the Davis Cup has represented the highest levels of courage and endeavour. Andrea Gaudenzi provided a new chapter last night. The Italian No 1 was on the verge of snatching a dramatic victory after nearly five hours on court in the opening match of the final against Sweden when his suspect right shoulder gave way.

Italy's despair was compounded when Magnus Gustafsson, Sweden's No 1, overwhelmed Davide Sanguinetti 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 after only 90 minutes.

Gaudenzi, playing his first match since having an operation after the semi-final against the United States in Milwaukee at the end of September, recovered from 0-4 in the fifth set against Sweden's Magnus Norman and saved a match point at 4-5 before damaging the shoulder while serving for a 6-5 lead.

Gaudenzi, whose shoulder was massaged before the start of the final set, called for the doctor again. This time the pain could not be eased. Clutching the shoulder in agony, Gaudenzi walked out to face Norman's serve in the 12th game.

At first it appeared that the Italian might try playing left handed, but he adopted his normal guard as the Swedish No 2, holding his nerve against a one-armed opponent, served out to love for 6-6.

There are no tie-breaks in the fifth sets of Davis Cup matches and Gaudenzi made a forlorn attempt to get through another service game. Norman hit two winning returns, and Gaudenzi tossed his racket aside before walking to the net to shake his opponent's hand and forfeit the match, 6-7, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-6, 30-0 (ret) after four hours and 57 minutes.

For a moment the crowd was stunned into silence, which in itself is worth a line in the centenary history. Given that the capacity of the Fila Forum here is only 12,400, every effort was made to recreate the football ambience of San Siro indoors for the first Davis Cup final ever staged in Italy. A banner proclaiming "Welcome to Hell" greeted the Swedish team and the message was amplified by klaxons, drums, cymbals, cheers, jeers, whistles, boos, songs and the intermittent sound of racket on ball.

For many spectators sportsmanship was not necessarily part of the agenda, which was to raise the Italian players to heroics while doing their best to intimidate the visitors. Italy had won only one of six previous finals, in Chile in 1976, and here was an opportunity to make it big at home against one of the sport's most respected nations.

Sweden, winners of the Davis Cup six times since 1975 and runners-up five times, generally prosper under pressure, part of the legacy of Borg, Wilander and Edberg. But the atmosphere yesterday was bound to affect their nerves. That was equally true on both sides of the net, as Gaudenzi and Norman discovered as they opened the duel on an orange coloured clay court that heightened the image of a bear pit.

The flag waving and chanting of "Italia" had scarcely begun when Gaudenzi found himself 0-3 down in what proved an epic first set. Epic, that is, in terms of length and twists of fortune rather than the quality of the tennis.

Norman made his first error in the fourth game to beckon Gaudenzi into the match. The Swede appeared to lose his footing when about to make an approach on the second break point of the game and dumped a forehand into the net.

The crowd loved that, and were delighted when Gaudenzi held to love for 3-3. Gaudenzi had two more break points in the 11th game, but was unable to nail either of them, and the set rumbled on to a tie-break.

Guadenzi led 5-3. Norman pulled back to 5-5, only for the Italian to create his first set point at 6-5. Norman missed his first serve, but Gaudenzi then hit a backhand long. The disappointment continued when Gaudenzi netted a low forehand volley on his second set point.

Relief followed when Norman netted a forehand on his first set point, at 7-8, and hit a forehand over the baseline on his second set point, at 8-9 and Gaudenzi delivered a winning serve to create his third opportunity, at 10-9. He went on to seal the set 11-9, after 70 minutes. The crowd errupted.

The second set followed a reverse pattern, with Gaudenzi winning the first three games only for Norman to haul him back and force another tie- break. This time the Swede broke into a sprint, dominating the shoot-out 7-0 to level.

Gaudenzi did not dwell on the set-back, winning the third set in 45 minutes, driving a forehand down the line on his fourth set point, all of which were in the 10th game.

But Norman levelled again, breaking for 1-3 in the fourth set. A long, frequently tedious contest was about to burst into life and rise above the bedlam. Gaudenzi faces further surgery on Monday. His place in today's doubles will be taken by Sanguinetti.

DAVIS CUP FINAL (Milan): Sweden lead Italy 2-0 (It name first): A Gaudenzi lost to M Norman 7-6 6-7 6-4 3-6 6-6 (Gaudenzi retired hurt in fifth set); D Sanguinetti lost to M Gustafsson 1-6 4-6 0-6.