Woodbridge takes Australia to brink

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Todd Woodbridge entered the pantheon of Australian Davis Cup greats yesterday with the words of his all-time hero ringing in his ears. When the 32-year-old stepped out on to the temporary grass court of the Rod Laver Arena to face Spain in the doubles rubber of the Davis Cup final here, he became Australia's most capped player.

His 29th appearance, passing the previous record held for 64 years by Adrian Quist, was marked by a stirring display as Woodbridge and his partner, Wayne Arthurs, dismantled the Spanish in straight sets to give Australia a 2-1 lead heading into the reverse singles.

Woodbridge, with 15 Grand Slam titles and 78 Tour titles to his name, now stands alone atop a revered list of Aussies. One of them, Ken Rosewall, presented the home players with their specially numbered tracksuits earlier in the week - and, for Woodbridge, his words of encouragement proved inspirational.

Immediately after the 6-3 6-1 6-3 triumph over Alex Corretja and Feliciano Lopez, Woodbridge paid tribute to the squad of 1953 who beat the Americans 3-2. "Fifty years ago at Kooyong they played a great match. Thank you for that inspiration, Ken," he said.

Later, Woodbridge explained why he had felt it important to acknowledge Rosewall. "Ken presented us with our new numbers representing Australia, and he talked about how it was to represent your country and play well," he said. "For me he is an inspiration. I grew up with his poster above my bed."

The moment took on added poignancy given this could have been Woodbridge's final Davis Cup appearance. If either Mark Philippoussis or Lleyton Hewitt can seal the win today, he will consider calling it a day.

Despite all that experience of victory in Grand Slam finals and high-pressure matches, this was the finest doubles performance Woodbridge can recall turning in. "I think I've played a couple of Wimbledon finals where I've played that standard, but this is probably the outstanding one," he said.

The only thing that did go Spain's way was the organisers' successful attempt, second time round, at playing their national anthem. The opening ceremony was wrecked when trumpeter James Morrison played the Republican anthem of the 1930s, and in one fell swoop inadvertently offended the Spanish monarchy.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the Australian official supporters' club, The Fanatics, to insult the visitors as they waved around a blow-up doll dressed in a Spanish football shirt and sang songs directed at Corretja. The fans had accused Corretja of making a throat-slitting gesture at them during the 2000 final in Barcelona, won by Spain, and vowed to get their own back.