Russia, France Struggle in Fed Cup; Roddick in 5th Straight Houston Final

Posted on April 24, 2005

Spanish Heavy Hitters Nadal, Ferrero in ATP Barcelona Final

Two intriguing stories advanced to the ATP Barcelona all-Spanish dream final Saturday in Rafael Nadal, who has become a seemingly unstoppable force on clay in 2005, and resurgent former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero who has found his confidence this week on the red dirt.

Nadal has won three claycourt titles already in 2005, including the Masters Series-Monte Carlo where he fed a bagel set to current French Open holder Gaston Gaudio and defeated Guillermo Coria in the final.

On Saturday Nadal defeated Czech Radek Stepanek 7-5, 6-2 to reach his fifth final in his last six events on hardcourt and clay.

Nadal improved to 34-6 on the season, including an ATP-best 24-2 on clay, already passing his win total from 2004.

"He was serving very well and it was difficult to break his serve, but I'm glad I was able to keep my concentration to win the match," Nadal said.

Ferrero gained the final with a 7-6(1), 6-1 win over Russian Nikolay Davydenko, following up on his sterling three-set win in the quarterfinals over Gaudio. It is the first final for the formerly(?) confidence-challenged former No. 1 in over a year, since Rotterdam in 2004.

Ferrero will need a new tact in the final against Nadal, who he received a 6-2, 6-1 pasting from just weeks ago in Valencia in their only previous meeting.

The doubles final will be Spaniards Lopez/Nadal (d. (5) Suk/Vizner from a set down in the semifinals) vs. (2) Paes/Zimonjic (d. (4) Aspelin/Perry).

The singles final will be best-of-five sets starting at 3:30 p.m. local time.

"I don't think I'm the favorite," said Captain Obvious Ferrero on facing Nadal. "He's playing really well and winning a lot of tournaments, I've been playing good lately but I don't think I'm the favorite."

Roddick Advances to Fifth Consecutive ATP Houston Final

Top-seeded Andy Roddick overcame two service breaks in the first set to defeat Jurgen Melzer 6-4, 6-2 to reach his fifth consecutive final at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston.

Roddick's five straight finals in Houston is the longest on the ATP tour since Yevgeny Kafelnikov reached the Moscow final six straight times between 1996-2001.

"It's a ritual I enjoy and hope to continue," said Roddick, who also faced a tough test from Melzer last year in Houston. "Last year here, he made me look stupid all night long with that drop shot and I didn't want to look as stupid today."

Roddick won Houston in 2001-02, and has finished runner-up the last two years, but looked at the end of his streak as Melzer charged out in the opening set.

"It was close, although it was 3-0 and I broke him again and it was 4-2," Melzer said. "I couldn't quite hold serve after that."

In the final Roddick will face No. 6 seed Sebastien Grosjean, who defeated qualifier Nicolas Lapentti 6-1, 7-6(5) in his semifinal.

Grosjean trails Roddick 1-4 in their head-to-head meetings and is 3-8 in career finals, last winning in 2002 at St. Petersburg.

The doubles final will be Garcia/Horna (d. Cibulec/Fyrstenberg in the semis) vs. (1) Knowles/Nestor (d. Fisher/Haggard).

U.S. Cruises, Russia, France Struggle in Fed Cup Opening Play

Italy tied with Russia 1-1

Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev pays for choosing the inexperienced Dinara Safina over Top 15 players Elena Bovina or Nadia Petrova, with Marat's little sis falling in a nervous exhibition 7-5, 6-3 to Francesca Schiavone.

"When I was told yesterday that I would play, I first thought 'Wow, cool' but then it began to sink in," said Safina, who has been criticized by brother Marat at times for not training hard enough. "After the first set I was a bit tired and down but I continued to fight all the time."

Veteran Elena Dementieva then evened the tie for Russia with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Tathiana Garbin in an ugly match featuring 13 breaks of serve.

"This match was not so simple," Dementieva said. "I made some mistakes. This is only my fourth day playing on the clay and my first match on this surface this season. I was not completely ready but tomorrow, against Schiavone, I will be."

U.S. Leads Belgium 2-0

Lindsay Davenport smokes Eveline Vanhyfte 6-0, 6-2, and Venus Williams defeats Els Callens 6-2, 6-2 to give the U.S. the easy 2-0 lead. Venus double-faulted twice to drop serve in her opening service game but eventually calmed down. "I just felt I had a little too many errors, and she definitely hadn't gotten her rhythm," Williams said.

Spain Leads Argentina 2-0

The home crowd Spaniards have forced Argentina to run the table Sunday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead Saturday behind wins by Anabel Medina-Garrigues, who defeated Maria-Emelia Salerni 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, and Nuria Llagostera Vives who earlier posted an identical 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Gisela Dulko in her Fed Cup debut.

France tied with Austria 1-1

France saw their 2005 Fed Cup hopes dwindle Saturday when former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo pulled from the event with abdominal pains. That hope became more desperate when the French found themselves trailing 0-1 in the tie when Austria's unheralded Yvonne Meusburger upset a tight world No. 15 Nathalie Dechy 7-6(3), 6-2.

"I don't really know why I played so badly today," said Dechy after a performance featuring a slew of nervous unforced errors. "I know she (Meusburger) is a long way below me in the rankings, but tennis isn't mathematics."

Actually it can be if you use the equation Dechy + choke = loss.

Fortunately for the French, Virginie Razzano stepped off the bench to even things up at 1-1, defeating 14-year-old Austrian Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-3.

"It's not as easy as people might think playing against a young, unknown player," Razzano said. "We had also lost the first match so that's the kind of thing that can make you nervous. I just tried to concentrate on my game."

Unexplained is why French captain Georges Goven went with Dechy instead of the hot-handed Mary Pierce, who is only slated to play in the doubles Sunday.

"I'm still confident -- I have to be," Goven said. "Nathalie may have lost today, but I have a good team and I don't think they will play badly in the remaining matches."
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Here's the confused Associated Press with another argument for killing the ATP's "Champions Race": "(Andy) Roddick, tied for fifth in the world rankings, was one of only two top-10 players at the clay court championships." Wrong. Roddick is ranked No. 4 on the official ATP Entry System Rankings...Hey ITF, where is the live scoring on the Fed Cup page? Hard to take your word for it that the Fed Cup is just as prestigious as the Davis Cup when you fail to spring for the live scoring...Henri Leconte speaking to the BBC on Gael "Force" Monfils: "He has a lot of talent, he is part of the Davis Cup team for next week, he plays very well and he has good humor. He has the capability to be a good tennis player. Already he has made some good results and beaten some good guys. He needs to keep gaining confidence and I think he has the opportunity. But he needs to work hard physically because he is so tall and he needs to work on his legs. Tennis is not the same now as it was in the '80s when you could play for 12 or 14 years. The way the guys play now you are more likely to be on top only for six or seven years and if you aren't in shape physically you are going to break."...Canada failed to advance to the World Group qualifying round for the first time in four years this weekend, shut down by Puerto Rico...China knocked Australia out of the Fed Cup World Group qualifying round for this year over the weekend. Evie Dominikovic lost to Tian Tian Sun, while Sam Stosur was defeated by Jie Zheng. "I'm very proud of our team," said Aussie captain John Alexander. "They gave it their all, they played as well as they could have under the conditions, just today China was too good. I think you'll see that there is as a result of this experience we'll be better in the next few months." How popular is Aussie Nicole Pratt for bailing on the team over a reported pay issue, and Alicia Molik simply taking a pass?