Czechs take 2-1 lead against US

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The Independent Online

John McEnroe has a message for his struggling US Davis Cup team: Stop resting on your Grand Slam trophies and start hustling.

"We're acting like spoiled kids," the rookie US captain said. "We've got to work harder."

That was evident on Saturday after Jiri Novak and David Rikl defeated Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 to give the lightly regarded Czech Republic a surprising 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 quarter-final in Inglewood, California.

"This is not a dream. This is the reality," Novak said. "We are very happy. We are very surprised we won three-love."

O'Brien, Palmer, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras own a combined 20 Grand Slam titles, but McEnroe said his team should stop being surprised by the Czechs and dig in.

"You have to forget about the fact that you've won all these things. If we're guilty of anything, we haven't played hard enough," McEnroe said. "I just want us to work harder so that we can pull this thing out. There's extra effort that needs to be taken."

McEnroe said Sampras didn't put in enough effort on Friday in a stunning straight-set loss to Novak, who has played the best tennis of his career for two consecutive days. Andre Agassi evened things by defeating Rikl in three sets.

"We can't just expect to win no matter who you play," McEnroe said.

The Americans were in similar trouble in the first round against Zimbabwe, McEnroe's debut as captain. They won the final two matches for a 3-2 victory, only the fourth such comeback by a US team in Davis Cup history.

They'll have to do it again today.

Agassi send the United States into the next round in July. Agassi plays Novak and Sampras faces Rikl on the fast indoor hardcourt.

Novak and Rikl had lost twice to O'Brien and Palmer on the ATP Tour this year, but this time the Czechs controlled the entire match. They broke Palmer for a 6-5 lead in the first set. Then they staved off two break points on Rikl's serve to close out the set 7-5.

O'Brien and Palmer led 3-2 in the second set when they held two break points on Novak's serve. But O'Brien netted a backhand service return to waste the first one and Rikl's crosscourt poach erased the second break point. O'Brien netted a service return to let the Czechs tie the set 3-3.

"It was a frustrating day for us. Doubles can be strange like that," O'Brien said. "They took it to us and we didn't step up and get the job done."

O'Brien's backhand error gave the Czechs the only break of the second set, which they won on Novak's scrambling smash.

"I never even felt like I had any rhythm," O'Brien said. "They totally kept us out of our game. They forced us to make changes, and that's why they beat us."

Trailing 3-1 in the third set, former Stanford teammates O'Brien and Palmer briefly roused themselves to win three consecutive games and take a 4-3 lead.

They blew a 40-love lead on Rikl's serve in the sixth game, but won the game when he committed his second double fault of the match. That got the crowd of 9,520 on its feet cheering and waving American flags. McEnroe stood cheering even as the umpire asked for quiet.

Between 50 and 100 Czech fans sitting behind the umpire's chair raised a ruckus all day with rhythmic clapping and chanting between points.

"Ten people on their side made more noise in a lot of situations than all the people on ours," McEnroe said.

O'Brien followed with a 40-love service game that gave the Americans their last lead. Novak lost one point on his serve to tie the set 4-4. The Czechs broke in the next game when Novak's volley handcuffed Palmer on his backhand side and Rikl served out the match as O'Brien's backhand service return landed long.

In other quarterfinals Saturday, defending champion Australia beat Germany 3-0 in Adelaide; Brazil leads Slovakia 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro; and Spain took a 2-1 lead over Russia in Malaga.

In American Zone play, Chile was awarded a 5-0 victory over Argentina, which withdrew from its match after fans tossed chairs and bottles on the court during an opening singles match.