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U.S. stays alive in Davis Cup

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

PARIS (AP) -- Don't count out the U.S. Davis Cup team just yet.

James Blake and Todd Martin came back to beat Mickael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro in five sets Saturday, allowing the United States to stave off elimination in the semifinals against defending champion France.

Blake's smash ended the 2-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 doubles victory as the U.S. team narrowed its deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-five series on clay at Roland Garros, home of the French Open.

''This feels great,'' Blake said. ''It got us back into this, and now we've got a chance to win tomorrow. That's what makes the Davis Cup so exciting.''

In the other Davis Cup semifinal, at Moscow, Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian and Lucas Arnold outlasted Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 19-17 in a match that lasted more than six hours to draw Argentina within 2-1.

Blake and Andy Roddick, both beaten in Friday's singles matches, both must win Sunday to avoid elimination. The last time a U.S. Davis Cup squad won after trailing 2-0 was in 1934 against Australia. Roddick plays Sebastien Grosjean, and Blake plays Arnaud Clement on Sunday.

''I'm really excited for tomorrow,'' said Blake, who beat Clement in their only previous match, at the Cincinnati Masters last month. Roddick and Grosjean never have played each other in competition, but the two have trained together in Boca Raton, Fla., where they live.

The United States holds the Davis Cup record of 31 titles. Its last victory was in 1995 and it hasn't reached a final since 1997.

''I think the guys will have learned a lot from what happened yesterday,'' U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said. ''It's going to be tough, but these guys learn quickly.''

Roddick watched Saturday's doubles match from the stands, biting his nails.

In the closing set, Llodra conceded a break with a long backhand, allowing the 32-year-old Martin to serve for the match at 5-4. Blake wasted the first match point with a long backhand volley, but sealed the victory two points later.

McEnroe switched his doubles team Saturday, opting to use Blake in place of Mardy Fish, who never before had played with Martin in competition. Blake and Martin won the Cincinnati Masters title last month. Santoro and Llodra were runners-up at this year's Australian Open.

Blake said he wasn't worried about playing his third match in a row Sunday.

''Even if I'm a little bit sore to begin a match, once I get out there with the crowd and the adrenaline pumping through me -- I think I'll be fine,'' he said.

France is looking to win back-to-back Davis Cup titles for the first time since 1932. In its Davis Cup history, France has squandered a 2-0 lead twice -- in 1946 and 1956.

The United States has a 7-6 record against France but has never beaten the French at Roland Garros. The two nations last played here in 1932, when France won 3-2.



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