MOSCOW _ This time there wasn't a home-court disadvantage.
Marat Safin overcame a surface he hated and a stubborn Argentine opponent
give Russia its first Davis Cup title on home soil, beating Jose Acasuso 6-3,
3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on Sunday for a 3-2 victory.
After losses in the finals to Sweden in 1994 and the United States in 1995,
Moscow's Olympic Stadium wasn't an issue.
Safin, a two-time Grad Slam winner who lost his singles match Friday, had to
face Acasuso _ a substitute for Juan Ignacio Chela. He recovered from his
second-set stumble and prevailed in a tense fourth-set tiebreaker.
"I was sure Acasuso would play, and I was sure Marat would beat him," Russia
captain Shamil Tarpishchev. "Marat is a fighter. He has experience and knows
well what to do and when to do it to reach his goal. That's what Acasuso lacks."
Safin wasn't so sure.
"There were some very difficult moments today. It was tough to control the
match. "Everything worked out, thank God," he said. "I was under pressure and I
was pretty scared. I didn't want to let this cup go away."
David Nalbandian did his best to claim it for Argentina, beating Safin in
straight sets Friday and winning over Nikolay Davydenko 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in
the first reverse singles match Sunday to force the decisive showdown.
"I wasn't nervous in the locker room, but when I got out onto the court it
was a totally different story _ I froze up," said Davydenko, who was married
last weekend. "When you tighten up, your muscles lose feeling and you wonder how
to play tennis."
With cup riding on his shoulders, Safin easily won the first set, breaking
Acasuso in the second game before coasting on serve. In the second set, Acasuso
saved two break points in the fifth game and then broke Safin to go up 4-2
before holding to even the match.
The Argentine saved two break points in his first service game of the third
set, but Safin beat him with a forehand passing shot after the fifth deuce and
took a 3-0 lead.
After returning to the court with his right foot taped up following a time
out, Acasuso broke Safin with a sharp backhand to close the gap to 4-3. Back on
serve, the Argentine netted three forehands to lose the following game at love,
and Safin held on to take the set.
The players traded service wins to force a tiebreaker in the fourth set.
Trailing 6-4, Acasuso saved a match point on Safin's serve, but then netted a
forehand from the baseline after a short rally.
Argentina captain Alberto Mancini stood by his decision to replace Chela with
Acasuso, who had not yet played in the final and was unbeaten in his four
previous Davis Cup matches this year.
"Jose was really fresh ... and I thought his game was better to face Safin,"
Playing far from home, Argentina _ which lost in its only previous final, to
the United States in 1981 _ had strong support from vocal fans including soccer
great Diego Maradona.
After speaking with Maradona on the court Saturday, Safin said it was "a
great honor to shake the hand that scored the goal" _ a wry reference to
Maradona's infamous "hand of God" goal in Argentina's 2-1 quarterfinal victory
over England in the 1986 World Cup.
Safin took the Maradona joke a step further following his win Sunday, saying
that "when he scored that goal it was the hand of God, and he passed that on to
me" when they shook hands.
Boris Yeltsin, a die-hard tennis fan at 75 who was president when Russia lost
two straight finals at home in the 1990s, was in the crowd all three days. He
had to be helped to his seat Sunday but hit the court beaming to congratulate
Safin following the win.
Russia's previous Davis Cup title came in 2002, in France.