Originally created 11/29/97

Double Davis Cup whammy: Sampras defaults, Chang loses



GOTEBORG, Sweden -- The pain in his left leg began in the second set. He had his ankle taped during a changeover, but it was not enough. By the third set, Pete Sampras was done for the day.

And the United States, trailing Sweden 2-0 in the finals, just might be done with the Davis Cup.

Sampras, hobbled by a pulled calf muscle, defaulted against Magnus Larsson on Friday, dealing another jolt to the Americans after Michael Chang lost the opening singles in four sets to Jonas Bjorkman.

"I felt pain in my calf in the middle of the second set," Sampras, the world's No. 1 player, said in a statement. "It didn't make sense to continue the way I was feeling."

In a city where the United States has had Davis Cup troubles before, Sampras won the first set 6-3. He lost the second 7-6 (7-1) and was down 2-1 and a break in the third when he quit.

"The health of a player is more important than the score," U.S. captain Tom Gullikson said.

Sampras will not play reverse singles Sunday, but there is no assurance the U.S. squad will even be alive by then.

Sampras had an MRI on Friday night at Sahlgrenska Hospital and was ruled out for further play by Dr. George Fared, the U.S. Davis Cup physician.

If Sweden takes the doubles on Saturday, it will win the best-of-5 series and capture the most prestigious title in team tennis a sixth time.

Jonathan Stark and Todd Martin will play doubles for the Americans, with Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti the probable Swedish team. Martin is expected to take Sampras' singles spot.

The last time a team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the championship was in 1939 when Australia defeated the United States. Sweden has never lost a Davis Cup series after leading 2-0.

"Our back is really against the wall," Gullikson said. "But they don't have three yet, so they can't celebrate yet. They've got to win one more match."

The United States has won the Davis Cup a record 31 times. The last American triumph came in 1995, when Sampras excelled in the victory over Russia. Sweden, runner-up to France last year, won its last title in 1994.

With Larsson up 5-4 in the second set, Sampras had his ankle taped. He held serve the next game and saved three set points two games later. But he was clearly ailing in the tiebreaker. After three games in the third set, he walked off the court.

Sampras had lost his last two matches against Larsson, the only player to have beaten the American twice this year.

"It was clear that he couldn't really push into the serve and he couldn't really run," Gullikson said. "It hurt really just to put weight on it."

This showdown has now begun to resemble the 1994 semifinal in Goteborg between the same teams. Sampras then beat Larsson but was forced to retire in the third singles against Stefan Edberg because of a hamstring injury and Sweden won 3-2.

Before this three-day final, Gullikson had spoken of getting rid of the ghosts of 1994, his debut year as captain. The only other time the United States lost to Sweden in the Davis Cup was in Goteborg in 1984. The Americans lead the series 7-2.

"It's probably not the happiest place to be right now," Gullikson said of Goteborg. "It gets dark a little early. Yeah, it hasn't been good to us so far. But tomorrow's a new day."

With Larsson up 5-4 in the second set, Sampras took a timeout to receive treatment and had his left ankle taped during the changeover.

Buoyed by a sell-out home crowd of 11,000 and playing sparkling tennis, Bjorkman gave Sweden just the start it was hoping for by defeating Chang 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Bjorkman, who has rocketed from No. 69 to No. 4 in the rankings this year, was a Davis Cup substitute last year but has carried his team this year.

"It's incredible," he said. "It makes all the training worthwhile."

Chang, ranked No. 3 in the world, said he was unable to win the crucial points.

"It's always important to get off to a good start and I wasn't able to do that today," he said. The turning point of the match came with Chang one point from a 4-2 lead in the third set.

Bjorkman slipped on the fast indoor carpet near the net but still recovered to win the point. Chang then went on to drop his serve and Bjorkman tied the score at 3-3.

"That was a big turnaround," Bjorkman said. "When I got the break back, I had to feel that I was in the match again."

Added Chang: "It was a pretty important point. It was the turning point of the match probably."