It would be safe to say that there has never been anything quite like the first day of the 2003 Davis Cup final in Melbourne. The tie is tantalisingly poised at one rubber apiece after two dramatic singles matches yesterday.
It had begun in farcical fashion as a diplomatic incident unravelled on the temporary grass court at the Rod Laver Arena. The Australian jazz trumpeter James Morrison had been given the wrong Spanish anthem to learn, so instead of playing the "Marcha Real", he gave a perfect rendition of the Republican anthem used between 1931 and 1939.
The Spanish fans booed, the dignitaries in the stands reacted furiously and demanded an apology from the Australian government for the gaffe.
When the tennis itself started, Lleyton Hewitt, Australia's former world No 1 who should have been rusty after an eight-week lay-off, battled back to win a five-set thriller, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, outlasting Spain's world No 3, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
"It was an absolute arm-wrestle and if he wasn't as physically fit and as mentally strong as he was today, he wouldn't have got over the line," the Australia team coach, Wally Masur, said.
"Tony Roche [the former Davis Cup coach] walked into the locker-room and said: 'When is he going to stop surprising us?' He keeps surprising us."
Hewitt took the initiative, with a host of winners making up for his unforced errors. Even when he slipped a set down, the 22-year-old was unfazed.
"I felt pretty good right from the start. I came out and I was aggressive. I felt I played pretty good tennis in the first set. He just played one better game on my service game than I did on his," he said.
Hewitt levelled the match in the second set but lost the third before the match went into a fourth-set tie-break. This was make-or-break time, as the Australian No 1, Mark Philippoussis, discovered later in the day when he was beaten in a similar situation by Carlos Moya.
"When you go into a tie-break and you are down two sets to one, you want to get off to a good start," Hewitt said. "I played an awesome tie-break, laid it all on the line. I played faultless tennis."
Hewitt romped through the tie-break 7-0 and Ferrero, who was suffering from sinusitis, was a beaten man, succumbing 6-2 in the final set as Australia took the first rubber.
Then it was down to Philippoussis, the 2003 Wimbledon finalist, against Moya, hardly one of tennis' most revered grass-court exponents. But Moya adapted magnificently to the conditions, came to the net, served well, returned well and mixed up his style.
It took Philippoussis two sets to find his stride, and by then the Australian was 6-4, 6-4 down. He did take the next set, by the same score, before Moya claimed the fourth-set tie-break 7-4 and levelled the final. "I knew I could play well on grass. This is a good win," Moya said.
Philippoussis assured the vociferous Australian fans, and his captain, John Fitzgerald, that the reverse singles would be a very different matter.
"I have no doubt that when it comes to Sunday I am going to be a different player out there. I have a match under my belt - obviously it's not the match I wanted - but grass is the kind of surface you need to play some matches."
Had Philippoussis come through that tie-break, Fitzgerald would have backed his man to wrap up the match but much now rests on today's doubles between Wayne Arthurs and the veteran Todd Woodbridge, of Australia, and Alex Corretja and Feliciano Lopez, of Spain.
"Expect a close one," Fitzgerald said.Reuse content