Ruthless Australia find right formula

Problem-child Philippoussis comes of age to silence partisan French crowd and lead team to centenary success

Australia's traditional strengths of team spirit and togetherness yesterday enabled them to capture the centenary Davis Cup, one of the rare tennis competitions to promote those values above individual ambition. The occasion also confirmed Mark Philippoussis, the one-time Aussie prodigal, as a major player.

Australia's traditional strengths of team spirit and togetherness yesterday enabled them to capture the centenary Davis Cup, one of the rare tennis competitions to promote those values above individual ambition. The occasion also confirmed Mark Philippoussis, the one-time Aussie prodigal, as a major player.

"This is the start of my tennis career," Philippoussis said, having followed Friday's straight-sets win against Sebastien Grosjean, the French No 2, in the opening match by securing victory by overpowering the French No 1, Cedric Pioline 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 in the first of yesterday's reverse singles.

Although the glorious bedlam in the stadium remained defiant, the French were hard-pressed from the moment they lost Saturday's doubles rubber, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, the Olympic champions, recovering from a dodgy start to defeat Fabrice Santoro and Olivier Delaitre 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, Woodbridge transforming from the worst to the best player in the match.

John Newcombe, Australia's captain, characteristically summarised the state of play: "If we have our man on the ropes, we've got to kick him right through them, to be blunt."

Philippoussis responded, practically pounding Pioline into the indoor clay court after dropping the second set, in spite of holding a set point on the Frenchman's serve at 5-4. Philippoussis had defeated Pioline in their two previous meetings, in the third round of the 1996 United States Open, on a concrete court, and in the quarter-finals in Lyon in 1997.

His performances on the clay here made regular observers of the sport wonder if we had seen the making of a man capable of translating a mighty serve and devastating groundstrokes, particularly with the forehand, into success at the French Open, let alone Wimbledon, the United States Open (where he was a finalist in 1998) and the Australian Open.

The overjoyed Philippoussis was oblivious to such notions. "Who knows what's going to happen next season?" he said. "Things happen for a reason. I got injured at Wimbledon [against Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals]. Who knows if I would have gone on to win it. Here I am, I won the match for the Davis Cup team. I'd take this one over Wimbledon any time."

Philippoussis, the 23-year-old son of a Melbourne taxi driver from Greece, accomplished his greatest feat to date in the Acropolis Exposition Complex, which seemed appropriate for a player who has an image of Alexander the Great tattooed on his right arm. In fact, Philippoussis could not have done more for his own image than he achieved as a team player over the weekend.

His ability to integrate into Australia's typical camaraderie had been questioned after past differences with personalities running the Davis Cup team, particularly Newcombe and Tony Roche, the coach, and fellow players, notably Pat Rafter. Acrimony was forgotten here, as Philippoussis led the Aussie charge in the absence of the injured Rafter.

"I've learned from my mistakes," Philippoussis said. "Of course, I've said things that were wrong or right; I've done things that were wrong or right. But I was young then, I'm still young now. I'm going to make mistakes. But I'll learn from those mistakes. Everything negative in the past has been put behind me, even before this. We came in as a team; we're going to leave as a team."

That was evident after the final point, when Philippoussis and Newcombe embraced. "There were a lot of 'Thank you's, we did it, finally we did it'," Philippoussis said.

Pioline, a survivor of the French team that won a sensational final in Sweden in 1996, did his best to carry the nation's expectations. But for his tenacity in resisting the 18-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, Australia's No 2, in the second singles match on Friday, there would have been nothing for the French supporters to cheer yesterday. In the end, amid the Australian celebrations, there was only the consolation of Grosjean's win against Hewitt in the "dead" rubber, 6-4, 6-3, making the final score 3-2.

Broken by Philippoussis in the opening game yesterday, Pioline struggled to staunch the flow of points against him, and double-faulted to lose the first set. Even after breaking in the first game of he second set, Pioline found his opponent hard to contain. Philippoussis broke back for 2-2, saved two break points at 4-4, and would have taken a two-sets lead but for a Pioline drop-shot on break point at 5-4.

After that the 9,000 French supporters had little option but to join the 1,000 Australians in marvelling at Philippoussis's power for the remainder of the match, which was completed after two hours and 42 minutes.

It was Australia's 27th Davis Cup triumph, second only to the United States (31), and underlined a flair for ball-games that has brought them world championships at cricket, both codes of rugby, women's hockey and netball. Success at football has been denied the Aussies so far, although the "Joeys" lost to Brazil on penalties in the World Youth Championships.

DAVIS CUP Final (Nice):

Friday: M Philippoussis (Aus) bt S Grosjean (Fr) 6-4 6-2 6-4 C Pioline (Fr) bt L Hewitt (Aus) 7-6 7-6 7-5.

Saturday: M Woodforde and T Woodbridge (Aus) bt F Santoro and O Delaitre (Fr) 2-6 7-5 6-2 6-2.

Yesterday: Philippoussis bt Pioline 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-2 Grosjean bt Hewitt 6-4 6-3.

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

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

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

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones