Russia wins first Davis Cup title

France's dreams of a Davis Cup triumph fell apart when Russia came from behind to beat the French defending champions 3-2 at Paris and take the silver trophy fo

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
  • Total Shares


France's dreams of a Davis Cup triumph fell apart when Russia came from behind to beat the French defending champions 3-2 at home and take the silver trophy for the first time. Little-known Russian Mikhail Youzhny sealed the historic win by overcoming a two-set deficit to defeat Paul-Henri Mathieu 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the last match of the tie, played to the best of five. Earlier Sunday, Russian tennis icon Marat Safin made up for his defeat in the doubles match by stunning France's top-ranked player, Sebastien Grosjean, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 on the red clay of Bercy's indoor stadium. Youzhny's win gave Russia its first Davis Cup title in three appearances in the final. The victory marked only the sixth time a team has rallied from 1-2 down in the Davis Cup final to win the trophy. "He surprised I think even himself,'' world No. 3 Safin said of his 20-year-old teammate. "He showed that he's a real man, he's a Russian man, he knows how to fight.'' Youzhny said he felt "no emotion'' after converting match point. "I didn't understand what was happening, I just knew we were winning.'' The French, who were seeking their 10th Davis Cup title, didn't understand either. As far as they were concerned, this wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Besides home advantage, which translated into thousands of cheering French fans at Bercy's packed stadium for all three days, France had statistics on its side. Guy Forget's team won the doubles match on Saturday, and since 1977 no team had lost in the final after taking the doubles. Also, no nation had fallen behind 1-2 in a final and won since Australia rallied to beat the United States in 1964. It all seemed to be going France's way when Mathieu raced through the first two sets of the final match with his big service game. Youzhny was a late replacement for Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who was worn out by his doubles defeat. But his 34 unforced errors in the first two sets suggested picking him for the decisive rubber was a mistake. "When I was down two sets to love, I told myself: 'I have to play my game, I have to do my best,''' Youzhny, the world No. 32, said. "I won this match, because I'm on top form. And even though I'm young, I already have experience of big matches.'' The turning point for Russia came in the fourth game of the third set when the lithe Youzhny, sporting a buzz-cut, broke his increasingly error-prone opponent. Buoyed by the audience, the Frenchman broke back, but a long forehand cost him his next service game as Youzhny moved ahead 4-2. Thanks to the decisive break, Youzhny took the third set. The two 20-year-olds had trouble holding serve in the last two sets, which saw a total of eight breaks. But each time the Russian took one break more, and celebrated by swinging his arm around and around like a propeller. Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev flashed a rare smile when Youzhny broke for a 4-3 lead in the final set. In the last game, he held serve at love, and Mathieu conceded defeat by hitting a long service return. The Russian players and staff ran on court and celebrated by lifting Youzhny above their heads, then throwing him up and down in the air. "It was really a tough match,'' Tarpishchev said. "I've never had such a tough match as the captain of the Russian team.'' Russian former President Boris Yeltsin, who was at Bercy for all five matches, walked out of his VIP seat in his shirt sleeves and hugged the winning team. Kafelnikov played in Russia's two previous appearances in the final, in 1994 and 1995. He has repeatedly vowed to retire if Russia beats France, but after Sunday's win he put off announcing a decision until next week. "I do respect what I said before,'' the 28-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion said. "It's a very enjoyable moment for me right now. The final statement will be made next week.'' Kafelnikov lost to Grosjean in straight sets on Friday, while Safin, a former U.S. Open champion, beat Mathieu in four sets. It was the French player's first ever Davis Cup match. In doubles, Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro beat Kafelnikov and Safin in five sets. French captain Guy Forget had been seeking France's first back-to-back titles since 1932, and its first win on home soil since 1996. He appeared to hold back tears as he took the stand during the award ceremony. "I put forward the best French players, but you guys were too strong for us,'' Forget said, looking at the Russian players. Then, turning to his own team: "Several times we've spoken of the 'magic recipe.' It's the unity between us that gives us strength. I guarantee, if we keep this state of mind, we will win again.'' (AP)