| Spain’s Carlos Moya returns a ball against Australian Mark Philippoussis at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Friday. (AFP)
Melbourne: Australia and Spain were locked at 1-1 after a dramatic first day of singles in the Davis Cup final on Friday.
Lleyton Hewitt staged a remarkable comeback to beat French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2 and give Australia a 1-0 lead.
But Spain levelled the tie at 1-1 when Carlos Moya upset Wimbledon runner-up Mark Philippoussis 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 in the second rubber.
There was drama even before the opening match when Spain’s sports minister ordered the team not to start until an apology had been issued after officials played the wrong anthem at the opening ceremony.
Juan Antonio Gomez-Angulo, who was watching from the stands, left the Rod Laver Arena in protest over the incident. He returned after an Australian apology and the tennis began.
“This reparation was done but the Spanish delegation is not quite satisfied and we have indicated to the International Tennis Federation, that prior to the commencement of the doubles match, the correct anthem be played,” he later told a news conference.
“Furthermore, I will be asking the Spanish ambassador to approach the Australian government to inquire as to how this intolerable offence could happen at the opening ceremony of an event as important as the Davis Cup.
“We are demanding a formal apology through the Spanish embassy in Australia and an explanation by the Australian government so that at a sports level the root of the problem can be corrected for this offence to the Spanish nation.”
Tennis Australia, organising the final on behalf of the ITF, said they had apologised for the error and would play the correct anthem on Saturday when the Spanish flag was raised.
“It is unfortunate the outstanding opening ceremony was marred by this regrettable occurrence and, as a mark of respect, Tennis Australia will be playing the Spanish and Australian anthems before play tomorrow and again on Sunday,” Tennis Australian president Geoff Pollard said in the statement.
Hewitt, the former world No. 1, drew on all his fighting spirit to twice claw his way back from a set down in searing 30 degree Celsius heat.
Ferrero looked to have put the brakes on Hewitt’s comeback when he recovered from a service break down to force the fourth set into a tie-break, but the Australian raised his game one more time to runaway with the match.
“It was hard work out there in tough conditions,” Hewitt said.“My thoughts and training for the last eight weeks have all been on this match and trying to get Australia off to a great start.”
Moya had only ever won nine matches on grass since turning professional in 1995 and had not played on the surface since June 2002.
He was given little hope of nullifying Philippoussis’ booming serve and natural volley game, but he quickly turned the tables on his more fancied opponent who made series of early errors.
Philippoussis briefly threatened to follow Hewitt'’s lead with a comeback of his own when he won the third set but he ran out of puff and lost the fourth in a tie-break.
“If he had won the fourth set, anything could have happened,” Moya said. “He was not playing very well at the start but he got better.”
Hewitt’s fighting qualities are already legendary and despite his slide down the world rankings he remains one of the most difficult opponents around.
He rallied from two sets down to beat Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the Davis Cup semi-final with Switzerland in September and his performance against Ferrero was just as impressive.
Ferrero, ranked three in the world, had the edge over Hewitt in the early stages of the match, clinically finishing off his break chances to open up a two sets to one lead.
But Hewitt, playing his first match since September, slowly wore him down, using his superior grass court skills to find a way through Ferrero’s steady baseline game. “It was a long match and it was difficult at any point to decide who was going to win,” Ferrero said. “It was a fairly even match (and) I think there was very little difference between us except for the fifth set.