Brazil splits 1-1 with Slovakia

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The Independent Online

Brazil and Slovakia were deadlocked after the first day of their Davis cup clash.

Raminik Hrbaty demolished Brazil's Fernando Meligeni in straight sets, while Karol Kucera forced local idol Gustavo Kuerten to a four-hour, five-set marathon before succumbing for a 1-1 split Friday in the opening singles matches of the Davis Cup quarterfinals.

"It was harder than we thought," said Kuerten, after surviving a 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 epic. "I'm very tired, but I'll have to find the strength for tomorrow."

The 10,000 fans who packed Marapendi Racket Center cheered and shouted in untennis-like fashion, anticipating a rout by No. 8-ranked Kuerten. Instead, they saw Kucera take their hero to the brink of defeat before exhaustion overcame him in the final set.

Kuerten failed to hold service even once in the first set. Kucera broke him four times and coasted to a 6-2 win.

The Brazilian came alive in the second set, putting his first serve in and keeping Kucera off balance with an unnerving drop shot to even the match at a set apiece.

But Kuerten's play got sloppy again in the third set, and Kucera, playing with a brace on his right ankle, took a 2-0 lead and never trailed. He broke Kuerten's serve three times, the last to go up 5-4 and hang on for a 6-4 win.

After nearly three hours of pus unforced errors.

Kuerten, serving with the set tied at 4-4, got a big break when the line judge reversed a call that gave him a 30-15 advantage. The Brazilian held service and went on to break Kucera in the 12th game to win 7-5.

The win brought ou the officials. The crowd was warned that shouting between serves would cost Brazil a point, and they settled down.

The fifth set was all Kuerten. He broke an exhausted Kucera twice and fired an ace to close the match.

The victory salvaged a day that started disastrously for Brazil.

Hrbaty overwhelmed Meligeni with a booming serve and strong baseline game for a 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 win.

The 22-year-old Slovak took command from the start, breaking Meligeni's serve twice to open a 5-0 lead and close the first set at 6-1.

When Hrbaty wasn't running him ragged, Meligeni hurt himself. Serving at 2-2 with a 40-15 lead, he double-faulted twice and lost the game. Hrbaty held on for a 7-5 win.

The third set was a stroll for Hrbaty, who had 10 break points in the first three games and won two of them. He finished with a 6-2 win after two hours and 13 minutes.

Meligeni, nicknamed "Skinny" because of his slight build, said he was simply overmatched.

"He's a machine gun," the Argentine-born Meligeni said. "He's a lot stronger than I am. I didn't play great tennis, but he dominated the match. He was possessed."

Kuerten and veteran Jaime Oncins face Hrbaty and Kucera in Saturday's doubles match. On Sunday, Kuerten plays Hrbaty and Meligeni faces Kucera.

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