Originally created 11/28/02

France faces Russia in Davis Cup final



PARIS -- France faces Russia in hopes of winning a second straight Davis Cup title for the first time since 1932.

The defending champions lack the talent that Russia boasts with Grand Slam tournament champions Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Instead, France will rely on team spirit and the home crowd during the best-of-five series from Friday through Sunday.

"The Russians are stronger than us on paper," French captain Guy Forget acknowledged. "I'm lucky to have guys on my team who are ready to give everything on court to pull off a surprise.

"Their team spirit, their friendship, their respect for each other. ... That's our strength," he added. "From that point of view, we're much stronger than the Russians."

Sebastien Grosjean, Nicolas Escude, Fabrice Santoro, Arnaud Clement and Paul-Henri Mathieu make up France's squad. A maximum of four can be announced by Forget on Thursday.

Grosjean, almost certain to play singles, is ranked 16th in the world - the highest among the French. Yet even he is expected to struggle against the Russians, who are seeking their first Davis Cup title. France is trying for its 10th.

"Sebastien is intelligent enough to know that he might not be able to produce with a racket what Safin does," Forget said. "He has to surpass himself to catch Safin."

While France's Davis Cup team has won eight straight encounters, none of its players has won a major title. Only Clement has reached a Grand Slam final, at the 2001 Australian Open.

Kafelnikov, on the other hand, has won titles at the French Open and Australian Open, plus an Olympic gold medal. He's said he'll retire if Russia wins the Davis Cup.

Safin, ranked No. 3, won the 2000 U.S. Open and was the runner-up at the Australian Open in January.

Kafelnikov and Safin probably will play singles and doubles for Russia, which reached the finals in 1994 and 1995. Kafelnikov played both times.

"Who plays first will be very important," the 28-year-old Kafelnikov said. "I think it would be to our advantage that Marat plays first because he's playing much better now. He's a lot more confident than I am. ... And then of course my job would be a lot easier because I won't be too much under pressure."

France could benefit from the home-court advantage and from playing on clay. A clay court was installed in Bercy at the request of the French team, which had the choice of venue and surface.