Anyone who had doubts about Pete Sampras' commitment to playing in the Davis Cup should have had them removed by his stirring defiance of injury in his second singles as he hauled the United States into the last four after their supposedly straightforward quarter-final against the Czech Republic at the weekend turned into a dogfight.
Sampras felt the need to prove a point after his surprising first-day defeat by Jiri Novak contributed to his side being locked at 2-2 going into the final singles in Inglewood, California. He beat Slava Dosedel, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6, and the match was won.
"It was a redemption," said Sampras, who had to struggle through after pulling his left quadriceps muscle early in the first set. "I never played a fifth match in Davis Cup. The way I felt on Friday with my family and friends here, it was more than a loss. I just felt really sad about it all, that they came out and I played the way I did."
The United States had gone into the final day Sunday trailing 2-1, but Andre Agassi levelled the series by winning the fourth match against Novak, who, looked tired after helping David Rikl to win Saturday's doubles.
Sampras's victory was particularly notable since he pulled his left quadriceps muscle early in the first set. But he never considered forfeiting the match.
The joy and relief for the former world No 1, who trotted off court into the waiting arms of John McEnroe, was as evident as his dejection had been on Friday after losing to Novak.McEnroe has captained two teams in his short Davis Cup career that have come back from a 2-1 deficit, the other time being against Zimbabwe in February. "Let's just say that it's not the healthiest of occupations," a smiling McEnroe said.
His life is unlikely to be any easier in the semi-finals in July when his team will travel to Spain, who trounced Russia 4-1, for a match on red clay.
While Sampras redeemed himself, there was no such salvation for another former world No 1, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who was savaged by the Russian media after losing both his singles matches in straight sets. Described as "a complete failure" by the daily Sovietsky Sport, Kafelnikov bore the brunt of the blame for a defeat that was branded by the news agency Itar-Tass as "a complete fiasco."
Beaten in straight sets by the Davis Cup newcomer Juan Carlos Ferraro in his first match he was then overwhelmed, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0, by Albert Costa in the second, a performance that led Alex Metreveli, the former Wimbledon finalist and Davis Cup stalwart, to say: "He did not show any game plan."
In the other semi-final, Australia, who beat Germany 3-2 in Adelaide, will play Brazil, who struggled past Slovakia 3-2 in a tie in Rio that was marked by bad behaviour in the crowd. Fernando Meligeni won the tie by beating an exhausted Karol Kucera, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4, in the final rubber. Brazil had begun the day 2-1 ahead but Slovakia pulled level when Dominik Hrbaty beat Gustavo Kuerten in straight sets on the Brazilian No 1's favourite clay surface.
Throughout the tie, Slovakia had to cope with whistling and jeering as they were serving. Play was interrupted several times on Sunday as unruly beer-drinking fans were ejected from the stands and Brazil were penalised a point in Meligeni's match because of the crowd's behaviour.