California calamity for America's all-stars

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The Independent Online

Dwight Davis, from St Louis, who inaugurated the Davis Cup after being inspired by the America's Cup yacht race, could no more have imagined that Croatia would one day punch his nation on the nose in California than that land-locked Switzerland would sail to glory on an ocean.

Dwight Davis, from St Louis, who inaugurated the Davis Cup after being inspired by the America's Cup yacht race, could no more have imagined that Croatia would one day punch his nation on the nose in California than that land-locked Switzerland would sail to glory on an ocean.

But that's sport. The best tennis team that the United States could put together - Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the world's top doubles partnership of Bob and Mike Bryan - was dismantled almost single-handedly by Ivan Ljubicic at the Home Depot Centre in Carson at the weekend.

It was the first time in the 105-year history of the competition that the Americans had lost at home in the first round. "This is going to be huge in Croatia and around the world," said Ljubicic, who defeated Agassi in straight sets last Friday, then partnered Mario Ancic in a four-set win against the Bryan brothers on Saturday and sealed the tie with an epic five-set triumph against Roddick on Sunday.

As Ljubicic said, the implications of the result are likely to be far-reaching. For one thing, there is speculation that Ljubicic's thrashing of Agassi may hasten the Las Vegan's retirement. Agassi, who turns 35 next month, was coaxed back into the team by the captain, Patrick McEnroe, and the players, after a two-year absence.

It will be interesting to see if Agassi makes himself available again for the World Group play-offs in September. Britain are among the nations that will go into the hat with the Americans when the draw is made in May.

The 25-year-old Ljubicic's chief concern before the tie was that he would have enough time to prepare after playing in the Dubai Open final the previous Sunday. Ljubicic lost that final to Roger Federer - the third time this year that Federer had denied him in a final - but consoled himself with the thought that it was the fourth final he had reached this season.

"I have proved I'm a good player, period," Ljubicic said after defeating Roddick 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, after three hours and 58 minutes, to secure a quarter-final meeting with Romania in July. Roddick, who was unable to convert any of three set points in the third set tie-break, which Ljubicic won 13-11, was distraught.

"There's no worse feeling than losing a match in Davis Cup in our sport, especially when your team-mates are counting on you," Roddick said. "In this situation, there are so many people that you're playing for and that you feel like you've let down."

The small print of history will record that Bob Bryan defeated Roko Karanusic in a dead rubber to make the result look more respectable at 3-2.

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