The agony of default: U.S. falls in Davis Cup

September 26, 1994|By Julie Cart | Julie Cart,Los Angeles Times

GOTEBORG, Sweden -- U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson thought he was dealing with tennis' Dream Team II -- the first edition had won the title in 1992. Instead, he discovered he was working with damaged goods, a team as heavily bandaged as it was heavily favored.

In an unraveling that its trainers and doctors could not stem, the U.S. Davis Cup team blew a 2-0 lead and, ultimately, the Davis Cup semifinal.

Yesterday, the world's No. 1 player, Pete Sampras, defaulted to Stefan Edberg after one set with a hamstring injury. It was left to Todd Martin to beat a player ranked 28 places below him. He could not.

Sweden, as it had here in 1984, upset the United States and won the semifinal, 3-2. Sweden will play at Russia in the final Dec. 2-4.

It was only the third time in history that the U.S. team has lost after holding a 2-0 lead. The other losses came in 1960 and 1939.

"It was quite astonishing coming back after being two matches down," Edberg said. "It's incredible. I was quite skeptical Friday, but anything can happen, and this shows it."

The United States saw its 2-0 lead from Friday erode to 2-1 after Saturday's doubles loss. Then disaster struck in the form of Sampras' hamstring injury, and Edberg, who won the first set, 6-3, earned the point that evened the match.

"In retrospect, this week our guys have spent a lot more time in the trainer's room than the tennis court," Gullikson said.

Still, Martin, who had been devastating in beating Edberg on Friday despite various physical troubles (knee, groin), was expected to beat Magnus Larsson.

Such is the caprice of Davis Cup, where the No. 34 player in the world can dismantle the world's No. 6 and make a mockery of the rankings, which pale in the face of flag and country. Larsson clinched it with only minor difficulty, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

While defaults happen with some frequency on the tour, it's not common in Davis Cup. There have been only six defaults by Americans since Davis Cup began in 1900. Sampras' was the first that has made a difference to the outcome.

Had other Americans been available, Sampras might not have felt compelled to play here with such a glaring lack of fitness. U.S. team physician Dr. George Fareed said the hamstring strain might have occurred during Friday's four-set match against Larsson. The muscle, which Fareed said was slightly torn, might take two to four weeks to heal.

"I can't lift my foot or bend the leg," Sampras said. "One thing after another. It's been an interesting year, a great year, but very frustrating."

Having placed his teammate in a pressure-filled position, Sampras sat glumly in the stands and watched Martin being taken apart by Larsson's pinpoint serving. The 24-year-old Swede had 15 aces and many more service winners.

"I was never nervous," Martin said. "I just purely got outplayed."

After the final point, Larsson leaped over the net and shook Martin's hand, then the Swedish team celebrated its improbable victory.

The Americans packed their rackets and liniment and gauze and limped off into the night.

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