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Australian Pair Gains Revenge for Slights, Setbacks in Singles

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Davis Cup competition offers the opportunity for revenge for doubles players, whose accomplishments on the professional tour often are overlooked. In the Davis Cup, the contribution of a doubles team frequently decides whether a team advances or goes home.

Australia’s Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde on Saturday exacted revenge for every one of their nine Grand Slam tournament doubles titles that took a back seat and for every time one of their peers blew them off the court in singles. On a broiling day at FitzGerald Tennis Center in front of 7,522, the “Woodies” gained revenge for the two singles losses the Australian Davis Cup team suffered against the United States on Friday.

Woodbridge and Woodforde’s 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4 victory over Pete Sampras and Todd Martin cut the United States’ lead in the semifinal match to 2-1 and added an element of suspense to today’s singles matches.

Sampras will play Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang will play Mark Philippoussis. The winner advances to the final against the winner of the Sweden-Italy match. The Swedes won their doubles match in Norrkoping, Sweden, Saturday and lead the series, 2-1.

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Only twice since 1900--in 1939 and 1994--has the U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead, and U.S. captain Tom Gullikson is cautiously optimistic about his team’s prospects.

“We only have to win one match tomorrow, they have to win two,” he said. “I feel pretty good about that. Simple mathematics really puts the odds in our favor. We have got the top two players in the world going at them tomorrow, so I feel pretty good about our chances.”

Australian captain John Newcombe acknowledged his team is in a difficult position, but believed his players’ tenacity would make a difference.

“We’re going to fight and claw and do anything we can to get back into this tie,” Newcombe said. “We’re here to leave our guts on the court. It’s not going to be easy. It may not be good enough, but we’re going to fight.”

Martin was a surprise selection for the U.S. team, but recovered well from a stomach virus and said he felt almost fine before Saturday’s match, which began at noon. With a temperature of 92 and high humidity, the Americans knew their best strategy was to try to overpower the smaller, less explosive Australians rather than attempt to match them at their deft, tactical game.

“Our objective was just to go out and fire away and see if we couldn’t dominate the other team by playing great tennis,” Martin said. “We did that for the first set and a half. We just didn’t sustain the level of play long enough.”

Woodforde, especially, played well, but both Australians had revenge in mind.

“We’ve [been criticized] for being a pair that has won a lot of great tournaments but ‘Who did we beat?’ Woodbridge said. “Today we beat the No. 1 singles player in the world and another guy who is one of the best singles players in the world as well. So I think we answered that question.”

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Doubles remains a puzzle that successive U.S. Davis Cup teams have failed to solve. Seldom do the Americans have trouble winning singles in Davis Cup and seldom do they win doubles. Yet, the doubles match is frequently the decisive match of the competition. The U.S. Davis Cup team has never lost a round when it has won the doubles but it is only 6-5 when it loses the doubles point.

“The last couple of years we haven’t had a top, top doubles team,” Gullikson said. “We have got some good American teams. We have got some good American players. Not many of the top singles players play doubles. We just haven’t been able to put together a really good doubles team.”

The raucous Davis Cup atmosphere was again present, and again it was the players who initiated the cheering. But the support deteriorated as the American team began to fall behind.

The chair umpire twice requested that the players in the U.S. box quiet down. Newcombe at one point turned around and said “Shut up!” in the direction of Justin Gimelstob, who has been hitting with the U.S. team this week and who was particularly vocal during the match.

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Newcombe said the players on the U.S. bench “crossed over the line” and rather than cheering for their team, the Americans jeered the Australian team.

Australian fans remained in stands long after the match and raised cups of beer, toasting the victory.

Woodbridge and Woodforde, 10-2 in Davis Cup play, knew the cheering was, at last, for them.


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