Originally created 11/30/02

France, Russia even at Davis Cup



PARIS -- Yevgeny Kafelnikov hardly helped his big plans to retire from tennis as a Davis Cup champion.

The Russian lost 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-0 to Sebastien Grosjean on Friday, leaving the Davis Cup final with defending champ France at 1-1 after the opening day.

Marat Safin won the opening match, defeating French Davis Cup rookie Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The best-of-five final on Bercy's indoor clay court will be decided in Sunday's singles matches, no matter who wins Saturday's doubles between Kafelnikov-Safin and Nicolas Escude-Fabrice Santoro.

France is seeking back-to-back Davis Cup titles for the first time since 1932, and its 10th title overall. Russia has never won the trophy.

Kafelnikov has said he will retire if Russia wins the Davis Cup. His loss to Grosjean was watched by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Kafelnikov, a two-time Grand Slam champion, made 41 unforced errors and had only 20 winners. Grosjean hit 42 winners and served 13 aces while his opponent had none.

"It was one-way traffic," the Russian said. "I wasn't able to keep up with him in the second and third set. I was making too many mistakes."

This was Grosjean's third straight victory over Kafelnikov.

"I tried to make him crack physically," Grosjean said. "The first two sets were tough. He slipped in the third set."

French captain Guy Forget sat courtside biting his nails as Mathieu made his Davis Cup debut against Safin, a former U.S. Open champion ranked No. 3 in the world.

Forget chose the 20-year-old Mathieu over the more experienced Arnaud Clement, who has had wrist tendinitis the last six months.

"I don't believe Mathieu has anything to regret," Forget said. "Marat was much stronger than him. He was moving well, he was hitting hard."

Safin double faulted on his first match point, drawing a frown from Yeltsin and a look of relief from his neighbor, French President Jacques Chirac, who left after the first match.

Mathieu broke serve and won the next game to trail 5-4, then moved ahead 30-15 in the final game when Safin hit a forehand at least a yard long. The Russian won the following two points and closed the match with his 19th ace.

"I'm happy that Marat won," Yeltsin said. "But the real struggle is still ahead of us."

Forget said he was considering replacing Mathieu with Santoro for Sunday's final match against Kafelnikov.

"It will be up to me to determine whether Paul-Henri or Fabrice has more chances of winning," he said. "They both have a completely different style of game."

Santoro has lost all six of his matches against Kafelnikov. But he is the most experienced Davis Cup player on the French team - a key factor if the title is decided in the final match.

Grosjean has a 2-4 record against Safin, who won their quarterfinal at this year's French Open. But the Frenchman is expected to be fresher in Sunday's singles than Safin, who is also playing doubles.

Mathieu was the first player to make his Davis Cup debut in a final since Pete Sampras in 1991. Sampras lost to Henri Leconte, and France beat the United States 3-1.

John McEnroe is the only player to have made his Davis Cup singles debut in the final and won. That was in the 1978 final against Britain, which the United States won 4-1.