Argentina clinched a home semifinal tie against Australia after narrowly beating reigning champions Croatia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Zagreb on Sunday.
The tie went right to the wire but Juan Ignecio Chela kept his nerve over two tie-breaks to beat Sasa Tuksar 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5) in the deciding rubber.
Earlier, Australia had completed a 5-0 whitewash of Belarus in Melbourne and Russia advanced to the last four after claiming the first singles of the day against France in Pau to take an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Australia’s win means they must now travel to Buenos Aires, where lynchpin Lleyton Hewitt is certain to receive a hostile welcome, a task veteran doubles specialist Wayne Arthurs is not looking forward to.
”It’s a very tough task going to Argentina and playing on clay and I know Lleyton’s a wanted man over in Argentina and they’ll be throwing more than the kitchen sink at him,” he said.
The Aussies, 28-time champions, completed the formality of beating Belarus, winning the two dead rubbers as Arthurs beat Siahei Tarasevich 7-6 (8/6), 6-2 while Chris Guccione cruised past Alexandr Zotov 6-1, 6-3.
Argentina started the day with a 2-1 lead over Croatia having won Saturday’s doubles rubber but they took a blow as world number five Ivan Ljubicic surprisingly hammered world number three David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
It meant everything was down to Chela, who began a running feud with Hewitt at last year’s Australian Open when he spat at the former world number one after taking exception to the Australian’s histrionics.
But the clay court specialist held his nerve against the relatively inexperienced 23-year-old Tuksar despite losing the opening set.
”It’s a real pity because I think I played well,” a visibly disappointed Tuksar said.
”I knew I could play just as well as my opponent, so I took the initiative from the very start, but unfortunately luck was on his side.”
Australia were whitewashed 5-0 on their last visit to Buenos Aires in 2002 and also lost 4-1 in Sydney last July, a match where Hewitt and Guillermo Coria traded insults and accused each other of bad sportsmanship after an ill-tempered singles rubber — another reason the former Wimbledon champion is sure to be public enemy number one in the Argentine capital in September.
Russia completed a surprise victory in France after substitute Dimitry Tursunov won a five-set thriller against teenage French star Richard Gasquet, who had already been beaten by former world number one Marat Safin in the opening singles rubber.
Tursunov, who won 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 7-5, was only playing because of an injury to Nikolay Davydenko who played in Friday’s opening singles matches.
Gasquet lost two tough five-setters over the weekend and admitted he had been overpowered by two big servers.
”I came across two guys who fired canonballs at me from every angle. I was beaten by 70 aces [55 in reality] in two matches,” complained the teenager.
”I played two very good matches but I came up against players who hit the ball really hard. They both played at a level that would put them easily in the world’s top 10.”
Mikhail Youhzny beat Mickael Llodra 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3) in the dead rubber to give the visitors a 4-1 win.
In the last quarterfinal tie in California, the United States take a 2-1 lead into the final two singles rubbers against Chile, Andy Roddick having taken an early two sets to one lead against Fernando Gonzalez.
American James Blake will meet Nicolas Massu in the second rubber. – Sapa-AFP