| safin: Has task cut out
Paris: Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake defend their unbeaten Davis Cup records against France’s Arnaud Clement and Sebastien Grosjean in the champions’ backyard at Roland Garros Friday.
[Meanwhile, in Moscow Russia’s number one Marat Safin was drawn to open the tie, against Argentina’s Ignacio Chela in the other semi-final.]
French captain Guy Forget waited until the last minute before deciding to include Grosjean, who has been suffering from a back injury all week, in the semi-final. He will face Blake in Friday’s second singles —a repeat of this year’s second round French Open match which the Frenchman won in four sets.
Roddick leads off against Clement.
Clement has been suffering from a wrist injury but Forget is not worried about his two singles players suffering relapses on the slow clay courts.
Fabrice Santoro and Mickael Llodra will play Saturday’s doubles while American captain Patrick McEnroe has named Mardy Fish and Todd Martin as their opponents. But depending on Friday’s results, Blake might be drafted in to the doubles.
The United States, champions 31 times, have never beaten the French in Paris.
“I have no reason not to be confident in them. Sebastien’s position has improved daily and he had no problems in training yesterday,” Forget said.
“Grosjean is top 10 and I’ve seen enough of him on the court here to know he can play well and I expect a tough match,” Blake said.
McEnroe believes the tie will hinge on how much patience his team are prepared to show on courts slowed by rain last night and whether France can pick the right moment to counter attack. “Grosjean has had a lot of success on clay, especially here,” said McEnroe. “But our guys are feeling pretty confident on the courts.”
Kafelnikov is relishing his key role. The former French Open and Australian Open champion said he will retire at the end of this season and wants to go out on a high by helping Russia to their maiden Davis Cup title.
Russia’s number two player, Kafelnikov will face Chela in the fifth rubber Sunday. “Hopefully, I can clinch this match for Russia,” he said.
Safin will open the tie at Moscow’s Luzhniki Sports Palace. Kafelnikov meets Gaston Gaudio in the second match.
Asked if the draw favoured either team, Argentine non-playing captain Alejandro Gattiger said: “It’s exactly the same (for both teams), I don’t think it would make any difference.”
His Russian counterpart Shamil Tarpishchev agreed.
“Both Argentine (singles) players are more or less the same strength, so the draw makes no difference for us,” he said. “Also both teams are practically even in strength, but we have the advantage of our home fans and the (fast) surface.”
Gattiger said: “Russia are the favourites, but Argentina have a very strong team and I like our chances.” Argentina's number one Gaudio acknowledged that the fast indoor surface could pose some difficulties for his side.
”It was pretty difficult for us to adapt to this surface, but we came here four days in advance and we are getting used to it,” he said.
Gattiger picked Gaudio and Chela to play the singles matches, leaving out his top-ranked player David Nalbandian, who is scheduled to partner Arnold Lukas in Saturday's doubles.
”It was not easy to say no to the Wimbledon runner-up (Nalbandian), but I have a lot of confidence in all our players,” said the team captain.
Gattiger also said he hopes Argentina can overcome the absence of their best player Guillermo Canas.