Tennis: Italy sweep past the US

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES paid a massive price for failing to persuade their big name players to turn out for the semi-final of the Davis Cup when Italy took an unbeatable 3-0 lead here yesterday.

Diego Nargiso and Andrea Gaudenzi squandered two match points in the third set before rallying for a 6-4 7-6 5-7 2-6 6-3 victory. The victory over Justin Gimelstob and Todd Martin booked Italy's place in the final against Sweden on the weekend of 4-6 December. "It's an unbelievable feeling. I never felt anything like this before," Nargiso said.

The United States' loss marked the end of a winning streak of 18 home Davis Cup matches. They last lost in the United States in 1987 when Boris Becker led West Germany to a 3-2 victory in Hartford, Connecticut. "It's something I never dreamed of and neither did our players," their captain, Tom Gullikson, said.

Italy's win followed Guadenzi's singles victory over Jan-Michael Gambill and David Sanguinetti's over Martin. The country last won the Davis Cup in 1976, though last year they reached the semi-finals, where they lost to Sweden, the most successful Davis Cup country of the past decade

Though they led 2-0 at the start of yesterday, the Italians would not have felt invincible. Gaudenzi and Nargiso were on the team that lost to France in 1996 after winning the first two singles matches. But the United States have lost all but one of their 29 Davis Cup ties after losing both opening singles, the only exception coming back in 1934. Their problems arose when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang declared themselves unavailable for the tie while Jim Courier, who was a member of the team, could not play because an injured arm.

Sweden booked a place in their third consecutive final when Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti kept their two-year unbeaten doubles record intact in Stockholm yesterday, to build up a winning 3-0 lead against Spain.

Bjorkman and Kulti beatJavier 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.