Lleyton Hewitt won his 26th straight match at the former Sydney Olympic complex, giving Australia an early lead with a 7-6 (5), 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 victory over Guillermo Coria.
Argentina's David Nalbandian led Wayne Arthurs 6-3, 7-6 (8), 5-7 when the second singles match was suspended due to a slippery grass court as night fell on the stadium. The match will be completed Saturday morning before the doubles match begins.
During the fiery Hewitt-Coria match, both players often mocked each other on winning points, there were frequent complaints by the Argentinians to the chair umpire over the damp court surface and Hewitt swore loudly and verbally abused Coria late in the match.
Accusations of spitting and crotch-grabbing added to the spite.
Coria, who described the condition of the court as a "disaster," said Hewitt's behavior in the match - and generally on tour - was inexcusable.
"Inside the court you really feel like killing him," Coria said through an interpreter.
"He can be the best player in the world and win every tournament, but he cannot behave the way he does.
He was abusing the captain, abusing the other players, abusing everybody.
"You can see for yourself. Lleyton cheers for other people's mistakes and is very aggressive. It is very difficult not to feel provoked. But as a person, I would rather not win a single tournament than be like Lleyton."
Hewitt countered by saying he felt he did nothing wrong during the match, and accused Coria of trying to physically intimidate him.
"If the worst thing I can do is say 'Come on,' ... if they think that's bad compared to spitting in the referee's direction," said Hewitt. "He tried to hip and shoulder me at the end of the first set. And he complained the whole day, so I'm not quite sure what his issue is.
"I didn't say a thing to him. I asked him at one stage when he was grabbing his private parts numerous times ...
I asked him if he had an issue. I don't think he understands English too well."
The warning signs were there before the match began. The last time the teams met in Davis Cup, Argentina beat Australia 5-0 on clay in an often acrimonious match at Buenos Aires in 2002.
And Hewitt had several run-ins with Argentinian players at this year's Australian Open, including Nalbandian. Hewitt and Arthurs are scheduled to play Nalbandian and Mariano Puerta in doubles Saturday, and it could be Hewitt vs. Nalbandian in the reverse singles on Sunday, so stay tuned.
Hewitt, winning for the 27th time in 32 Davis Cup singles matches for Australia, came from a break down in the first set and fought off four break points in a marathon seventh game before prevailing in an opening tiebreaker.
"That seventh game I was able to get back in the match," said Hewitt. "The tiebreaker could have gone either way, so that was a huge momentum swing then.
The 24-year-old Hewitt's only loss at the Sydney International Tennis Center came in the first round of the 2000 Olympic Games tournament. He has not lost there since, while winning four Sydney ATP tournaments.
The start was delayed by 40 minutes when officials decided that parts of the damp temporary grass court needed additional time to dry. One end of the court - the area where the sun never pokes through over the stadium wall - had been particularly wet for most of the last week, and Argentina had complained about the surface.
At the end of the second set, Argentinian captain Alberto Mancini again complained to umpire Carlos Ramos of Portugal about the increasingly slippery conditions at the damp end of the court.
Coria staged a resurgence in the third, breaking Hewitt in the third, fifth and seventh games to take the set. Coria pointed his hand towards his face, mocking one of Hewitt's celebration antics on court.
With Hewitt up 4-2 in the fourth set, the Australian pointed at Coria and swore at the South American player. The winning point came moments after Coria had hit an overhead smash into Hewitt's body at the net, and only minutes after Hewitt thought Coria was mocking him by grabbing his thigh area.
Hewitt broke Coria's serve at love to go up 5-2 and then served out for the match.
"There was a lot of wasted time out there," Hewitt said of the Argentinian complaints about the court. "At least I didn't complain as much as they did."
Coria "tried mimicking me right from the start. It was a distraction. Their captain, who has been mouthing off all about sportsmanship, is talking to the (chair umpire) on every second point of my serve. That's not sportsmanship ... that's absolute rubbish."
The Australia-Argentina winner will play a September semifinal away against either the Netherlands or Slovakia, the other two teams in the top half of the Davis Cup draw.Reuse content