U.S. ousted from Davis Cup Korda clinches win for Czech Republic

April 08, 1996|By Christopher Clarey | Christopher Clarey,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Pete Sampras already had declared that he would be available for the Davis Cup semifinals in September.

Sampras won't be needed. Nor will his fellow American Grand Slam title winners Andre Agassi, Michael Chang or Jim Courier, who, like Sampras, all chose to skip Easter weekend in Prague.

That is because there will be no Davis Cup semifinal this year for the world's leading nation in men's tennis. Petr Korda, the skinny and streaky Czech left-hander, made sure of that yesterday in his home city, clinching a 3-2 victory for the Czech Republic with a resounding 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-2 defeat of MaliVai Washington in the final match of this quarterfinal.

"Sure, I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to pout about it," said U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson, who only last December was celebrating in Moscow with Sampras, Agassi and Courier after beating Russia in the 1995 final. "I think we can hold our heads high. The players we had here all gave 100 percent and played the best tennis they knew how to play. They just came up a little short at the end."

Not every American came up short on the very quick court the Czechs laid inside the Sports Hall. Todd Martin, the only member of last year's winning team who played in Prague, was brilliant and focused again in yesterday's opening singles match. He blew past another power player, Daniel Vacek, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 6-1.

"Just how much should I pay you for the lesson?" Vacek asked when he crossed the 6-foot-6 Martin's path after the match.

"I didn't play like this on Tuesday, and I probably won't play like this next Wednesday," said Martin, who played so well despite a strained right groin that has been nagging him for the past month.

Gullikson acknowledged yesterday that if not for Martin's groin injury, he might have considered using him in Saturday's doubles match. "I really didn't think Todd would be able to go three matches," Gullikson said.

As it turned out, the doubles would be the turning point. Vacek and Korda teamed up to dominate Patrick McEnroe and Patrick Galbraith and give their team a 2-1 edge heading into the reverse singles. In the last 28 Davis Cup ties, the United States is 19-0 when it wins the doubles and 4-5 when it does not.

Washington squandered two set points on the Czech's serve at 4-5 in the opening set, when Korda and the crowd of about 6,000 were looking edgy.

In the ensuing tiebreaker, the pivotal moment came with Korda serving at 5-5. Washington hit a forehand return long off Korda's first serve, partly because he was certain the serve was out. But Korda and, more important, the linesman and chair umpire Jeremy Shales saw it differently.

"I think the chair umpire called the score well today," Washington would say later, with faint praise.

But there was nothing questionable about the next point, when Korda won the set with a forehand volley, pumped his fists and triumphantly pointed his skinny right index finger in Washington's direction.

Despite that cocky gesture, Korda, a high-strung sort with enough talent to have been ranked fifth in the world in 1992, still looked jumpy early in the second set. He had to save another break point at 30-40 in the opening game with a service winner wide to Washington's two-handed backhand, a serve that would do consistent damage all afternoon.

Washington served poorly in the next game, and Korda broke him with a backhand return winner. Korda, a good front-runner, and the Czechs were on their way to their first spot in the Davis Cup semifinals since 1986, when the Czech Republic was only the western half of Czechoslovakia.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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