US strive to end Davis Cup drought

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> For the Americans, the challenge comes in claiming the Davis Cup for the first time since 1995. For the Russians, it comes in the drama of getting here.

Updated: November 23, 2007 12:39 IST
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For the Americans, the challenge comes in claiming the Davis Cup for the first time since 1995. For the Russians, it comes in the drama of getting here.

Allegations of gambling and whispers about poisoning hang over the Russian team as it prepares to defend its Davis Cup title in the final next week at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

But because of the long American drought, the spotlight of the best-of-five match series that begins Nov 30 will no doubt be on the hosts, led by Andy Roddick.

The once-dominant United States has 31 Davis Cup titles but none in the past 12 years, the longest span without an American victory.

"This has been such a big goal for us as a team. So yes, there is pressure," team captain Patrick McEnroe said. "At the same time I think, as the great Billie Jean King said, pressure is a privilege."

Sixth-ranked Roddick will be joined on the US team by 13th-ranked James Blake and the top-ranked doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.

"To be honest, for me it might be the shining moment in my career to win a Davis Cup title," Blake said. "I know a lot of veterans who have already retired look back and say those are some of their fondest memories. I think when I'm done, I'll share the same sentiment. I'll be looking back on these weeks, on these ties, how happy I was, how proud I was with my team."

The world's fourth-ranked player, Nikolay Davydenko, will lead the defending champion Russians, joined by Igor Andreev, Dmitry Tursunov and Mikhail Youzhny. The team is captained by Shamil Tarpishchev.

Both Davis Cup teams include the same players from the semifinals, when the United States beat Sweden 4-1 and Russia defeated Germany 3-2.

Giving this Davis Cup a kind of Cold War feel is the intrigue surrounding the Russian team.

Davydenko is at the center of an ongoing investigation into unusual betting patterns during a loss to Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina at a match in Poland in August.

Betfair, an online gambling company, voided all bets on the match after unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly ranked Argentine throughout the contest, even after he lost the first set 6-1. Davydenko retired with an injury in the third set.

Davydenko also was fined $2,000 by the ATP for "lack of best effort" during a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss to Marin Cilic at St Petersburg, Russia, last month. But he appealed the ruling, which he won, and the fine was rescinded.

Meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation was investigating allegations that Tommy Haas was poisoned before Germany's Davis Cup match against Russia.

Haas was forced out of his match against Youzhny with a suspected stomach virus. Russia won both reverse singles matches on Sept. 23 to win the semifinal tie 3-2 and reach the Davis Cup Final.

German teammate Alexander Waske said he was told by a Russian who manages numerous athletes that it was poisoning, not a virus. Waske didn't identify the manager.

The German tennis federation has said it has found no proof that Haas was poisoned.

Blake was amused by the reports.

"To think of that seems a little silly. I'm hoping and I really believe Tommy must have just gotten sick," Blake said.

He jokingly added: "I don't think we'll have a taster with us. We'll just keep an eye on the kitchen, maybe."

The Americans last won a Davis Cup title in 1995, when Pete Sampras led the team to victory over Russia on clay in Moscow.

The United States last hosted the Davis Cup Final in 1992, in Fort Worth, Texas. Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe defeated Switzerland _ with a 10-year-old Roddick in the stands.

The Bryans saw a first-round Davis Cup match in 1990 in Carlsbad, California. Americans Rick Leach and Jim Pugh defeated Leonardo Lavelle and Jorge Lozano of Mexico.

The Bryans were 9.

"We were dressed up in flags, supporting the team," Mike Bryan has said. "We actually idolized Ricky Leach. I remember watching him walking down to play his match, he stopped to say, 'Hi!' to us. Blew our minds."

In last year's semifinals, Tursunov put Russia into the final against Argentina by beating Roddick 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 17-15 in reverse singles in the deciding match.

Memorial Coliseum in Portland hosted two previous Davis Cup events, in 1981 and 1984, both US semifinal victories over Australia.

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