Tennis: Fromberg fightback staggers Goellner: Australia level the tie with Germany after Stich stops Stoltenberg in the opening singles of Davis Cup final

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The Independent Online
RICHARD FROMBERG kept Australia's Davis Cup challenge alive last night with a memorable five-set victory against Marc Goellner - but not before the German had failed to convert five match points in his first final.

Goellner had three opportunities to win the match in straight sets, and two more at 7-6 in the fifth set, only to see Fromberg snatch victory, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2, 9-7 after four hours and 31 minutes. The Tasmanian, who delivered 23 aces, is the first player to retrieve a two-set deficit and save match points in winning a match in a final since Britain's Buster Mottram defeated America's Brian Gottfried in Palm Springs in 1978.

In doing so, Fromberg levelled the tie at 1-1 after Michael Stich had ground out a five-set win against Jason Stoltenberg in three hours and 25 minutes. It is the first time for 20 years that a final has opened with two five-set matches.

Fromberg's success presents Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge with the chance to nudge Australia ahead in today's doubles match against Stich and Patrik Kuhnen and at least keeps the final alive until tomorrow's reverse singles.

Not surprisingly, Fromberg was in no condition to attend a post- match press conference. 'He's totally spent,' Neale Fraser, the Australian captain, said. 'Richard is suffering from exhaustion right now and he's flaked out on the table.

'He's a great competitor on clay,' Fraser added. 'Goellner was well on top in the first two sets and we told Frommie to hang in there. And he's a past master at that. I'm very satisfied that we're 1-1 and I have said all along we can win.'

Stich won 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. In their only previous match, at the Australian Open in January, the 1991 Wimbledon champion defeated Stoltenberg 6-1 in the fifth set. That was on a medium-paced concrete court. The technique remained the same on clay, both players aiming to hit big serves and conclude the points with the first volley. This gave an impression of Wimbledon on Valium.

Stoltenberg, belying his world ranking of No 44, took a 2-0 lead in the final set, taking advantage of signs of fatigue in the ATP Tour champion. Stich, leading 40-0 in the opening game, double-faulted for the first time in the match. Stoltenberg pounced, worrying the German into further errors and breaking with a spectacular cross-court drive volley.

Stich was so upset that he tossed his racket on to his bag while Niki Pilic, the German captain, made attempts to reassure him during the changeover. Stoltenberg, meanwhile, remained calm while heeding the advice of Neale Fraser, and promptly went out to hold serve.

The crowd, resorting to Mexican waves, was desperate for an indication that Stich, like the Boris Becker of fond memory, could still deliver when the going became rough. Their man supplied it in the fourth game. Though Stoltenberg saved one break point, he fluffed the second. Having produced some fine serves to salvage big points earlier, the Australian double-faulted, and Stich was level.

Stich made the crucial break in the eighth game, when Stoltenberg directed a backhand volley over the baseline. The German then served out to love, finishing with a splendid forehand volley.

The job could have been a lot shorter. Stich, usually a master of the tie-break - he had won his previous five - seemed to go walk-about in the first set shoot-out.

En route to the tie-break, the German had saved a break point in the second game and the Australian had saved one in the 11th. The Australian then produced a backhand winner to terminate a 35-shot rally which reminded us that the surface was conducive to rallying.

Stich's serve, which had cost him only seven points before the tie- break, was suddenly less reliable, and Stoltenberg's attacks were also aided by several unforced errors in winning, 7-2.

Angry with himself, Stich dominated the next two sets. He finished the second in 43 minutes with a couple of aces, and gave Stoltenberg little breathing space in the third.

The Australian broke for the first time in the match in the third game of the fourth set. This was enough to fill Stich with doubt again, and Stoltenberg began to look by far the more confident player. Though he was unable to sustain the pressure in the fifth set, Stoltenberg vindicated Fraser's decision to select him ahead of the 30-year-old Wally Masur.

'That was a lot of hard work,' Stich said. 'Fortunately he got a bit nervous and made a few mistakes. Jason made me work hard but I probably played at about 70-80 per cent of my ability.'

Stoltenberg said Stich's experience was vital at the end of the tight fifth set. 'The rankings don't really matter in a Davis Cup final,' he said. 'I am pretty disappointed and frustrated, but I did my best. He lifted his game in the fifth set and that's why he is No 2 in the world and such a great player.'

DAVIS CUP Final (Dusseldorf): Germany and Australia level at 1-1: M Stich (Ger) bt J Stoltenberg (Aus) 6-7 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-3; R Fromberg (Aus) bt M Goellner (Ger) 3-6 5-7 7-6

6-2 9-7. Today: Stich and Patrik Kuhnen v Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. Tomorrow: Stich v Fromberg; Goellner v Stoltenberg.