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French take Davis Cup lead at 2-1

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 1, 2002

PARIS -- With its resilient doubles team buoyed by a crowd pounding ThunderStix, France closed in on a second straight Davis Cup title.

Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro gave the French a 2-1 lead against Russia in the best-of-five final Saturday, beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than 31/2 hours.

France can win its 10th Davis Cup title if Sebastien Grosjean defeats Safin in today's first singles match.

The team winning the doubles has won the past 24 finals.

France last won back-to-back titles in 1932. Russia, playing in its third final, has never won the title.

"We gave 150 percent of what we were able to give," Santoro said. "It was tough because they were hitting very hard and very fast."

French captain Guy Forget is expected to choose between Santoro and Paul-Henri Mathieu for today's final match against Kafelnikov. Mathieu lost to Safin in four sets Friday.

After losing the first set, Russia turned the match around with powerful groundstrokes and strong serves.

Escude fell on his back near the end of the third set, which the Russians won, and left the court to be examined. He returned, and the French lost the first two games of the next set.

But just as Kafelnikov and Safin seemed set to take the match, the French dug in at the net.

"At one point, I said to Nicolas, 'Now we have to bend our knees and play as if we are a wall and not miss a single volley,"' Santoro said.

The French won six of the next seven games to cheers from a crowd that sang Marseillaise, the French national anthem, after France evened the match at two sets.

"We gave them their confidence back," Kafelnikov said. "And then basically, we had to start the whole match again."

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