Sampras' default puts U.S. on Davis Cup brink Chang also beaten as Sweden takes charge


GOTEBORG, Sweden -- Tom Gullikson, the captain of the United States' Davis Cup team, swore it would not happen this time. There would be no supernatural goings-on, no mysterious injuries, no eerie surrenders inside the hulking Scandinavium Arena. But Gullikson could not have been more wrong.

Soon after Michael Chang lost the opening match of this team championship to Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden yesterday, Pete Sampras was removed from the premises in a wheelchair after straining the calf muscle in his left leg in the third set of his match against Magnus Larsson.

Icy Goteborg, the harbor town where the United States saw one dream team implode in the 1984 final and had another wither away when a leg in jury hobbled Sampras in the 1994 semifinal, returned as a ghost of Davis Cup frustration with a vengeance yesterday.

The two Swedish victories were as unexpected as they were frightening to the American squad.

First, Bjorkman subdued the third-ranked Chang after a 2-hour, 53-minute struggle, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Then Larsson, ranked 25th, prevailed, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 2-1, when Sampras again limped off the court in a default, giving the Swede a stunning third victory over the world's No. 1 this year.

Sweden leads 2-0, an advantage that is as ominous as it is commanding. Not since 1939 has a team recovered from an 0-2 deficit in a Davis Cup final. And no Swedish team has ever relinquished a 2-0 Davis Cup lead.

The day's developments sent Sampras to Sahlgrenska Hospital for a magnetic resonance imaging test to determine the severity of his injury, kept Chang in the doldrums where he has been all autumn, and left Gullikson with no viable option for today's doubles except the 0-1 Davis Cup tandem of Todd Martin and Jonathan Stark.

Gullikson had hoped to play Sampras and Martin against Sweden's experienced Bjorkman (11-2) and Nicklas Kulti (4-2).

Instead, he will send Stark, whose unimposing 0-3 history in Davis Cup includes a loss here in the 1994 semifinal, and Martin, who is nursing a sore elbow, into a match that determines whether the United States is eliminated, 3-0, or survives for tomorrow's reverse singles.

Martin is likely to replace Sampras, who has a muscle pull that will require three to four weeks to heal.

"Certainly we're in a position we're not used to, down 2-0; our back is really against the wall," Gullikson said. "It's not the happiest place to be right now."

Chang, a woebegone loser, refused to search for alibis or excuses after his battle with Bjorkman. But his loss put the United States in instant trouble.

After being out-aced 17-15 and upended by the jubilant Bjorkman, Chang said that the slick, brick-colored court beneath the slope-roofed Scandinavium Arena was not the enemy. It was not, he said, so conducive to Bjorkman's speedy all-court game that it sabotaged his own.

Nor did Chang blame the flag-waving, drum-beating, bell-ringing battalion of Swedish sympathizers among the record sellout crowd of 11,558.

What most depressed and disappointed Chang was internal. His results and spirit have done a swift swoon since he bungled his chance to reach the United States Open final in September by bowing to the eventual champion, Patrick Rafter, in the semifinals.

As Chang, who twice double-faulted in the final game, shuffled miserably toward the sidelines and seemed not far from tears, Bjorkman went off to bump chests in triumph with his current teammates and his ex-teammate, Stefan Edberg.

"My feeling is that he's trying to change his game to beat me," said Bjorkman, ranked a career-best fourth in the world.

Chang fell hardest yesterday in the sixth game of the third set, when Bjorkman won an acrobatic rally at game point. Bjorkman threaded one lob through the ceiling pipes, cranked out a high backhand volley despite slipping as he returned Chang's lob, and dropped a winning volley across the net that sent the American tumbling onto the hardcourt in vain pursuit. After losing that spectacular point, Chang also lost his serve and his carefully cultivated 3-1 edge in the set.

"Probably, in a sense, it was the turning point of the match," said Chang, who did not win another game in the set and fell behind for good when he lost his serve in the seventh game of the fourth set.

Pub Date: 11/29/97

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