| Mark Philippoussis collapses in joy after defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in an epic five-setter to give Australia the Davis Cup in Melbourne on Sunday. Philippoussis won 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 2-6, 6-0.(AFP)
Melbourne: Australia won the Davis Cup for the 28th time on Sunday when a courageous Mark Philippoussis beat Juan Carlos Ferrero in a five-set struggle in front of a cheering hometown crowd.
Needing to win just one of the two concluding rubbers to secure the title, Australia snatched an unassailable 3-1 lead when Philippoussis, called the Scud, defied injury to beat the French Open champion 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 2-6, 6-0.
Philippoussis needed medical treatment on a pectoral muscle after the fourth set when the momentum had suddenly turned against him, but decided to play on in agony.
“There was no way I was going to pull out,” Philippoussis said. “This is Davis Cup and you leave your heart out there. At the end of the day I was completely numb. I felt like I wasn’t playing but watching from the sideline.
“It just shows how much this means to all of us. It has been a long year and it was our goal.”
The final match between Lleyton Hewitt and Carlos Moya was called off as the players and crowd burst into spontaneous celebration. Hewitt watched the match from courtside but missed the last set after he was ordered to start preparing to play Moya.
Non-playing captain John Fitzgerald said Philippoussis’ performance would become part of tennis folklore. “We believe in the sport and playing for Australia and I know there will be kids who will be inspired by this,” he said.
Philippoussis, who had lost his opening singles match to Moya on Friday, produced a near-perfect demonstration of grasscourt tennis to race to a 2-0 lead against the world’s third-ranked player.
The Wimbledon finalist fired down an array of aces, accurate volleys and crisp groundstrokes to overpower Ferrero, whose natural baseline game is better suited to clay. The Spaniard fought back gallantly to force the match into a deciding fifth set despite having a leg injury of his own but could not raise his game again when Philippoussis regained control.
“The feeling is bad and of sadness,” Ferrero said. “We came here with a lot hope. We wanted to win this final. We had a bit of bad luck. I tried as hard as I could in the fifth set, but I think he just played too well.”
Philippoussis, who needed treatment during the final break between sets, immediately regained the ascendancy when he broke Ferrero in the second game of the last set. Roared on by a full house at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena, his momentum carried him to victory and he collapsed in joy after sealing his win with an overhead smash.
Hosts Australia were always heavy favourites to win tennis’ most coveted team trophy after deciding to play on a temporary grasscourt that suited their players. Friday’s opening singles had been split 1-1 after Hewitt beat Ferrero in five sets and Philippoussis lost to Moya, but the odds were dramatically shortened in the hosts’ favour when Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge won Saturday’s doubles rubber easily.
Despite Australia’s great record in Davis Cup, they had not won the title on home soil since 1986 and their only win since then was in France in 1999 when Philippoussis was again the hero.
Australia lost the 2000 final to Spain in Barcelona and were odds-on favourites to beat France at home two years later, but lost in the deciding rubber after Fitzgerald suddenly changed his starting line-up for the last two days and the gamble backfired. “It is a bad feeling to lose, particularly the further you get in this tournament,” Moya said.
“But I guess time cures everything and in a few hours’ time we will be looking back and saying how we got here, how we fought hard, how we missed by perhaps not very much.
“We came to Australia, we played on grass, the odds were not in our favour but we are proud that we came to fight.”