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Blake caps U.S. win in Davis Cup doubles

©Associated Press
September 22, 2002

PARIS -- Don't count out the U.S. Davis Cup team just yet.

James Blake and Todd Martin came back to beat Mickael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro in five sets Saturday as the United States staved off elimination in the semifinals against defending champion France.

Blake's smash ended the 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 doubles victory as the U.S. team narrowed its deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-five series on clay at Roland Garros, home of the French Open.

"This feels great," said Blake, who lives in Tampa and trains at Saddlebrook. "It got us back into this, and now we've got a chance to win tomorrow."

In the other Davis Cup semifinal at Moscow, Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian and Lucas Arnold outlasted Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 19-17 in a match that lasted more than six hours to draw Argentina within 2-1.

The teams battled for more than three hours in the final set before Argentina saved a pair of match points to win. The set stayed on serve for the first 16 games until Russia broke Nalbandian's serve. Safin was then broken to make it 17-17, and after Arnold held serve the Argentines broke Kafelnikov to win.

Blake and Andy Roddick, both beaten in Friday's singles matches, each must win today for the United States to avoid elimination.

The last time a U.S. Davis Cup squad won after trailing 2-0 was in 1934 against Australia.

Roddick plays Sebastien Grosjean, and Blake plays Arnaud Clement.

"I'm really excited for tomorrow," said Blake, who beat Clement at the Cincinnati Masters last month. Roddick and Grosjean never have played each other, but the two have trained together in Boca Raton, where they live.

The United States holds the Davis Cup record of 31 titles. Its last victory was in 1995, and it hasn't reached a final since '97.

"I think the guys will have learned a lot from what happened yesterday," U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said. "It's going to be tough, but these guys learn quickly."

McEnroe switched his doubles team, opting to use Blake in place of Mardy Fish, who never had played with Martin in competition. Blake and Martin won the Cincinnati Masters last month. Santoro and Llodra were runners-up at this year's Australian Open.

In Saturday's closing set, Llodra conceded a break with a long backhand, allowing the 32-year-old Martin to serve for the match at 5-4. Blake wasted the first match point with a backhand volley but sealed it two points later.

Blake said he wasn't worried about playing his third match in a row today.

"Even if I'm a little bit sore to begin a match, once I get out there with the crowd and the adrenaline pumping through me, I think I'll be fine," he said.

The United States is 7-6 against France but never has won at Roland Garros. The nations last played at the home of the French Open in 1932, when France won 3-2.

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