Agassi rescues US in Davis Cup

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The Independent Online

Andre Agassi drew the United States from the brink of Davis Cup elimination in Inglewood, California today, leaving it up to Pete Sampras to send the team to the semi-finals.

Agassi beat Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 to tie the series 2-2. That prevented the Czechs from clinching a quarter-final victory and set up a decisive match between Sampras and Slava Dosedel.

Novak stunned Sampras in straight sets on Friday, then teamed with David Rikl to beat Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer in doubles on Saturday, giving the Czechs a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.

But after taking out the world's third-ranked player and top-ranked doubles team in two days, Novak ran out of gas during a prolonged baseline battle with Agassi, the world's No 1 player.

Agassi improved to 4-1 when the United States faces elimination in Davis Cup, including a 2-0 record this year. His victory in the reverse singles in Zimbabwe kept the Americans from being eliminated in the first round before Chris Woodruff pulled out a four-set win to give the United States a 3-2 decision.

With girlfriend Steffi Graf looking on, Agassi ran Novak back and forth in a match that featured extended rallies and a few effective drop volleys by Agassi.

A flag-waving, cheering crowd at its most raucous in three days of tennis at the Forum repeatedly had to be shushed by the chair umpire between points.

Novak's netted backhand gave Agassi the first set before both players dug in for a back-and-forth battle in the second. Six of the nine games featured break points.

Agassi won three consecutive games to go up 4-2, including saving two break points on his serve in the fourth game. Novak staved off two break points on his serve in the seventh game when Agassi mis-hit a backhand to allow Novak to close to 4-3.

Agassi fell behind love-30 on his serve and faced another break point in the eighth game. But Novak's forehand hit the net cord for deuce, then his forehand service return went long and he netted a return of a big Agassi serve to trail 5-3. Novak fought back from a love-40 deficit only to hit a backhand wide in losing the second set 6-3.

Agassi broke in the second and sixth games of the third, then won the match with a 115 mph serve that Novak got a racket on only to return beyond the baseline.

In other Davis Cup matches, Spain and Brazil joined defending champion Australia in the semi-finals.

Spain beat Russian 4-1 and will play the US-Czech Republic winner. Australia defeated Germany 3-2 and will next face Brazil, a 3-2 winner over Slovakia.

Alberto Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero completed Spain's rout of Russia. Costa ousted Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-0, 6-3, 6-0, and Ferrero defeated Marat Safin 6-0, 6-3 in Malaga, Spain.

Costa needed less than 90 minutes to defeat the world's No 3 player. Kafelnikov had teamed with Safin, winning Saturday's doubles to keep Russia's Davis Cup hopes alive after Spain won the first two singles on Friday.

After a five-hour rain delay, Costa, who substituted for Alex Corretja, needed just 26 minutes to take the first set. The match was almost 40 minutes old before Kafelnikov won a game. The Russian won only six points in the final set.

Ferrero, a Davis Cup novice who beat Kafelnikov on Friday, won the final singles against Safin 6-0ifth match in Rio de Janeiro.

Slovakia had tied the series when Dominik Hrbaty overpowered a weary Gustavo Kuerten 7-5, 6-4 , 7-6 (5).

"It was tough, man," Kuerten said. "I felt tired today."

The Aussies ousted Germany in Adalaide. Australia dropped the final two meaningless singles against Germany today. Rainer Schuttler defeated Lleyton Hewitt 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Michael Kohlmann beat Wayne Arthurs 7-5, 7-6 (5).

Hewitt and Arthurs won the opening singles on Friday, and Pat Rafter and Mark Woodforde took Saturday's doubles.