'Woodies' keep Aussies in hunt U.S. Davis Cup lead is trimmed to 2-1

September 21, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- After losing both opening-round singles matches and down a set and a break at the start of doubles yesterday, it appeared Matilda would be waltzing back to Australia at any moment.

"But that's why we're good," said Todd Woodbridge of Australia's famed "Woodies" doubles team, after the Aussies' 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4 recovery act against the United States tandem of Pete Sampras and Todd Martin in the Davis Cup semifinals.

"I started poorly, and Mark knew I'd eventually get to playing well if he could hold them off," Woodbridge said.

At the same time, there was team captain John Newcombe first pleading, then threatening his players to keep the team alive in the competition, which the United States leads 2-1. Today's final singles pit Sampras against Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang against Mark Philippoussis.

"I'm still confident that needing just one more point and with the two best players in the world going for us, we'll prevail," said U.S. captain Tom Gullikson.

Strangely, Gullikson was put in the position of having to defend his decision to send two singles players out to take on the No. 1 doubles team on the planet.

Actually, it was a no-brainer. "The last few years, we haven't had a top doubles team," Gullikson explained. "All our top guys are singles players who don't play a lot of doubles, so we try to figure out who we have the best shot with."

While Sampras carries a ranking of No. 513 on the doubles list, he's still the biggest cannon in the game and, as such, you fire him any time you can. Martin, 6 feet 6 and 200 pounds, hammers the ball also.

The intention, clearly, was "to go out there and play singles on a doubles court and hope it would work," said the coach.

It nearly did, too, Sampras rifling a bullet past the cowering Aussies for the first point of the match and leading the Americans to an easy 6-3 win of the first set.

A break of Woodforde at the start of the second set gave indication that this one might be over quickly, but then the Woodies began to stir. They got it to a tiebreaker, overcame a mini-break and evened things up with a 7-5 tiebreaker triumph.

"It's one-one and a doubles match now and we're going to win it," Newcombe yelled at his tandem.

"When we flubbed the second set, they had a chance to find their form," said Martin, who, in the end, turned out to be the stronger American player.

A break of Sampras' service got the Aussies back in the second set. Another break of Sampras' all-or-nothing service gave the Woodies a 4-2 lead in the fourth set. The piece de resistance was breaking Sampras a third time to capture the match.

"I think he's the best server in the history of the game," Gullikson said of Sampras. "In singles, his serve is his biggest weapon. It's a little bit different when you come to doubles. I could say hit an 80-mile-an-hour kicker and rush the net, but that would be stupid."

It was worth the shot, sending two siege gunners out hoping they'd be able to blow the Aussies off the court, particularly because Gullikson had no alternative.

Sampras, who barely had a workout during his victory over Philippoussis on Friday, subbed for Jim Courier, who has a sore shoulder. The other team member, Alex O'Brien, isn't in top form, either.

"It was tough riding out the wave of their power game. But, after a while, you could see some mistakes creeping into their game," Woodbridge said.

The longer the match went, the more it favored the Aussies and their clever dink and angles and strategy game. "Plus, we were prepared for Sampras for months. We knew he'd be playing doubles," Woodforde said.

Both Aussies agreed that de- spite their winning eight Grand Slam titles, including five straight Wimbledons, this was probably their biggest triumph.

"Not only does it keep us alive in this tie," Woodforde said, "we beat the best and another great singles player in the world. Whenever we win a title, they always say, 'Yes, but who did you beat?' "

Said Newcombe: "We're going to fight and claw and leave our guts out on the court [today]. It might not be enough, but we'll be satisfied with our effort."

"Let's see," said Gullikson. "We've got the two best in the world, playing before the home crowd and on their favorite surface. We're looking forward to [today] with great optimism, but everyone knows we can't rest until we get to three points."

The home team came dangerously close to getting to that rest stop yesterday, but, in the bright, warm, humid afternoon at the FitzGerald Tennis Center, there was that ever-present boisterous legion of revelers from Down Under giving out with another rousing rendition of "Waltzing Matilda."

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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