French renaissance silences Yeltsin

France will win the Davis Cup for the 10th time today, overtaking Britain in third place behind the United States (with 31 wins) and Australia (27), unless Russia's Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov can dredge reserves of inspiration to compensate for fatigue after losing the doubles in five sets yesterday. The Russians are 2-1 down with two singles to play.

The killer blow in yesterday's contest ­ and perhaps the final ­ was the Russians' inability to consolidate a lead of two sets to one and 2-0 in the fourth set against Fabrice Santoro and Nicolas Escudé. The Frenchmen broke back to 2-2, and then cracked Safin's serve for the first time in the match to take a decisive 4-2 lead. When Safin was broken a second time at the start of the fifth set, the spirit began to drain from the Russians and their animated chief supporter, Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin led the applause and raised his right arm in a clench-fisted salute after the Russian team had taken the initiative. The former president's wife, Naina, waved a small Russian flag, which drooped as their optimism turned to disappointment.

Santoro and Escudé, having watched Safin defeat the debutant Paul-Henri Mathieu, and then Sebastien Grosjean level the tie by overwhelming Kafelnikov on Friday, can now sit back and savour the concluding singles matches after prevailing yesterday, 6-3 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-4.

Russia's two-man force will try to mock the odds against them as they drag their weary limbs into a third day of campaigning. Safin must overcome Grosjean in a duel of the No 1s in order to give Kafelnikov the chance to win the tie in a fifth rubber against Mathieu. As things stand, the 28-year-old Kafelnikov's dream of retiring in possession of the trophy seems remote.

Kafelnikov, who was on the losing side in Russia's two previous finals, against Sweden in 1994 and the US in 1995, needed to perform better than he did against Grosjean to take the pressure off ­ pressure he had built by saying for months that he wanted to end his career with a Davis triumph.

While yesterday's doubles was an anti-climax for the Russians, it was a marvellous match, full of twists of fortune, dazzling rallies and agonising errors of judgement. Having broken Kafelnikov's serve in the fourth game, the Russian double-faulting, the Frenchmen took the opening set without extending themselves. Yeltsin took off his jacket, as if he wanted to join in.

Kafelnikov's serve was threatened again in the third game of the second set, but he saved a break point with a potent second serve. Santoro lost his serve in the fourth game, Kafelnikov winning a spectacular exchange. Yeltsin leaned forward in anticipation.

Although Kafelnikov lost his serve for 1-3 in the third set, Santoro was broken twice. Escudé, who wore a support for his lower back, had treatment before the start of the fourth set. He lost his serve in the opening game, but made amends by breaking Safin for 4-2 to put the home supporters in the mood for a party.

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable