Davis Cup: Russia, Argentina lead

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/A/Apmaratsafin.jpg' class='caption'> Russia was leading the US 2-0 and Argentina led Australia 1-0 in the Davis Cup semifinals on Friday.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
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Russia was on the verge of eliminating the Americans for the first time, and Argentina was also close to putting Australia in a 2-0 hole in the Davis Cup semifinals on Friday. Marat Safin and Mikhail Youzhny won both opening singles in Moscow for the loss of one set, while David Nalbandian easily won the first point in Buenos Aires and set Argentina on course to uphold his prediction of winning the tie with a day to spare. Safin justified his selection ahead of higher-ranked teammate Nikolay Davydenko by dispatching Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5), then Youzhny defeated James Blake 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5, leaving the Americans grumbling about the soft clay which needed constant repairing in Olympic Stadium. The Russians, who haven't lost at home in 10 years, need to win only one of the three remaining rubbers to secure their first berth in the final since their only title in 2002. And they were delighting in their options for Saturday's doubles, despite facing the world's No. 1 duo of Bob and Mike Bryan, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champions. Safin said he was available fresh after firing 17 aces past Roddick, and world No. 5 Davydenko was still waiting in the wings. Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov were named on Thursday to play the doubles but captain Shamil Tarpishchev had until an hour before the rubber to name his official lineup. "I'm really pleased that the Americans are trying to guess," Youzhny said. Even if the Bryans were to win their ninth Davis Cup doubles in 10 chances, the United States hasn't rallied from a 2-0 deficit since 1934. "Obviously, our backs are against the wall," US captain Patrick McEnroe said. "I believe in these guys. I think they can play well on clay." Safin had lost his last three matches to Roddick, but on clay where he had far better credentials than Roddick, he was troubled only at the end of the third set, when he was broken while serving for the match at 5-3, and came back from 5-2 down in the tiebreaker, winning the last five points. "I know he's not confident on clay ... it would have been different on a hard court," Safin said. Youzhny was the hero of Russia's 2002 championship, and he appeared to have far more energy than Blake, who took the second set playing serve and volley then appeared to tire. "Blake softened up his game and I speeded up mine," Youzhny said. Argentina tighten grip In Buenos Aires, Nalbandian rolled over Mark Philippoussis 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and Jose Acasuso was thumping Lleyton Hewitt 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-0 when rain postponed play to Saturday. Fourth-ranked Nalbandian won so easily that the capacity crowd in the 14,500-seat Parque Roca hardly had to cheer him on. But there was plenty to thrill the crowd, including Diego Maradona, when Acasuso, playing only his third Cup singles, met Hewitt, Australia's most successful Cup player carrying a grudge for past run-ins with Argentine players. Hewitt took the first set 6-1 but lost his concentration in the second set, claimed by Acasuso. Spectators also repeatedly mimicked Hewitt's cries of "C'mon! C'mon!" The Australian knuckled down to win more of the longer rallies and went up two sets to one, but as the wind gained strength and made shots chancy, Hewitt made more errors and Acasuso forced a deciding set. A drizzle started and Acasuso took charge to lead 4-0 but he was serving at break point down when play was halted. After the second singles is completed on Saturday, the doubles is scheduled to feature Nalbandian with Agustin Calleri against Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley. Argentina is trying to maintain an eight-year unbeaten run at home to reach its first final in 25 years. In World Group playoffs it was; Czech Republic 2, Netherlands 0; Austria 2, Mexico 0; Switzerland 1, Serbia 1; Romania 1, South Korea 1; Spain 1, Italy 1; Germany 1, Thailand 1; Slovakia 1, Belgium 1; and play between Brazil and Sweden was postponed to Saturday because of rain. (AP)

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