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Croatian rally stuns U.S. team

©Associated Press

February 9, 2003

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Goran Ivanisevic winced with each serve.

After shoulder surgery nine months ago and a long layoff, he could have been excused for poor play in the Davis Cup.

But after losing two sets of Saturday's doubles match, the 2001 Wimbledon champion and Ivan Ljubicic stunned James Blake and Mardy Fish, who live in Tampa and train at Saddlebrook, for a 2-1 Croatian lead in the best-of-five series against the United States.

The Croatians' rally for a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-4 victory pushed the U.S. squad to the brink of being eliminated in the first round for the seventh time.

"Our backs are against the wall," U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said. "In these situations you learn quickly. But we are certainly capable of going out and winning two matches."

Ljubicic can clinch it for Croatia by beating Blake in today's first singles match on the indoor court. If Blake wins, Fish plays 18-year-old Mario Ancic to settle it. The United States has come back from 2-1 deficits five times.

A loss would be a blow to a United States program that has won the Davis Cup a record 31 times, though not since 1995. Neither Croatia nor Yugoslavia has reached the final.

McEnroe has a bit of a makeshift squad. Blake, at 23, is the veteran of the team, and his first Davis Cup match came 15 months ago. No one else on the roster had played Davis Cup singles.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi opted not to play, and Andy Roddick is out with a wrist injury.

Ivanisevic and Ljubicic embraced in a clumsy dance after winning and took turns lifting each other off the court. The usually animated Ivanisevic looked dazed when the match began and confused at the end, trying to figure out how to celebrate.

"I had great pain in my elbow, biceps, everywhere. But I said, "It doesn't matter what happens, you have to finish this match,' " Ivanisevic said.

Ivanisevic, 31, has made a career of this kind of drama. The win was the sixth in a row for him and Ljubicic in Davis Cup doubles, the third after trailing 2-0 in sets.

"I forgot what it was like to play this kind of match. I was so happy, I didn't know what to do, where to go, where to jump," Ivanisevic said. "When you beat the USA in doubles after going two sets to love down, you have to be happy."

Blake and Fish complained about the 3,000 fans at the Dom Sportova. McEnroe noted the umpire and referee made announcements in English to quiet the crowd, not in Croatian.

GAZ DE FRANCE OPEN: Serena Williams beat eighth-seeded Eleni Daniilidou 6-2, 6-0 in 46 minutes to advance to the final in Paris. Williams, who has won all 10 of her matches this season, including the Australian Open title, faces third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, who beat Elena Dementieva 6-0, 6-0.

INDIAN OPEN: Tamarine Tanasugarn won her first WTA title, beating Iroda Tulyaganova 6-4, 6-4 in the final in Hyderabad.

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