Originally created 12/03/01

France, far from home, celebrates Davis Cup



MELBOURNE, Australia -- French captain Guy Forget was thrilled with his team's Davis Cup championship, although he would have preferred a celebration on the other side of the world.

"When you play at home, you dream about winning," Forget said. "All your family and friends are there."

Not many were there Sunday, but the French beat Australia to avenge a loss in the finals two years ago in Nice. Forget thought the Aussies, led by Lleyton Hewitt, had the advantage coming in.

"You are back in Australia against probably even a better team on grass, against the No. 1 player in the world and you know your chances are even smaller," Forget said. "And then you pull off a win. It's just very, very special."

Just as special was the play of Nicolas Escude, whose 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Wayne Arthurs in the final reverse singles match completed France's 3-2 victory. Escude had given France a great start Friday by beating Hewitt in the opener.

Australia had tied it 2-2 earlier Sunday when Hewitt beat Sebastien Grosjean 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. But the Aussies were at a disadvantage in the decisive match. They were forced to use Arthurs, ranked 64th and playing singles for the first time since October.

Davis Cup mainstay Pat Rafter couldn't play because of tendinitis in his right arm.

Captain John Fitzgerald decided Saturday to scrap the scheduled doubles pairing of Todd Woodbridge and Arthurs in favor of Rafter and Hewitt. The hope was that they would win, leaving Australia in position to close out France with Hewitt on Sunday.

But the move backfired - Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro won the doubles to give France a 2-1 lead - and haunted Fitzgerald again when Rafter was too sore to play Sunday.

"I knew I had only one match left in me before the doubles, so we thought that we should go for it and see if we can knock it off," Rafter said of the decision to play Saturday. "It was a risk we had to take and it didn't come off."

The loss was the second straight in the final for Australia, beaten last year by Spain.

Hewitt, the U.S. Open champion, said the team knew for some time that Rafter was questionable.

"It has been a touch-and-go thing for the last two or three weeks," Hewitt said. "It was never a certainty whether he was going to be out on the court on Day 1, either. We took the risk that he was able to put in one exceptional match, but it obviously took a lot out of him."

Arthurs had lost to the 27th-ranked Escude in their only previous meeting, while Rafter was 4-0 against the Frenchman.

Now, Rafter plans an extended break, hoping his arm will heal.

"He has got a problem with his arm and he needs to get that right if he is ever going to have a chance to play again," Fitzgerald said. "It's probably a 3-to-6-month recuperation period, I would think."