Defending champion Russia blanked

David Nalbandian of Argentina exults after winning a point against Russian Nikolay Davydenko during their Davis Cup quarter-final match in Buenos Aires. Nalbandian won this match in straight sets. Russia lost 0-5 to Argentina.-Pic. AFP

The Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals, held in different parts of the world, from April 4 to 6, had all the ingredients for tough matches.

The Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals, held in different parts of the world, from April 4 to 6, had all the ingredients for tough matches. Surprisingly, all the matches, except the one between Switzerland and former champion France, were one-sided. The significant thing was the ouster of the defending champion Russia by Argentina and the stupendous performance by Roger Federer for Switzerland.

Federer won three matches in as many days to propel Switzerland to a 3-2 win over France and put his team in the semifinals for only the second time since the formation of the World Group in 1981.

It was Federer who evened the tie — after George Bastl lost the opening match to Sebastien Grosjean — with a convincing straight sets win over Nicolas Escude.

Guy Forget chose Fabrice Santoro, for the fourth rubber, instead of Grosjean who sustained a left leg injury during his singles match. But Federer proved too good for Santoro. The first set saw Roger at his best. The Swiss took an early lead and wrapped it up 6-1 in 20 minutes, and then went on to finish the match and the tie 3-1 in no time. Serving at 1-6 and 0-4 down, Santoro lost his way, losing the second set with an embarrassing 0-6 score in 30 minutes.

In the third set, Santoro tried to vary his game plan in order to get back into the match, but there was no stopping Federer. Overheads, drop-shots, passing shots, you name it Federer had played it on that day. In no time the match was over. The final set ended 6-2 in 39 minutes.

Switzerland will play Australia, in Australia, in the semifinals from September 19 to 21. This is Switzerland's second semifinals appearance. In 1992, Switzerland went down to France in the last four stage. There is also no doubt that the 2001 confrontation between the two nations in Neufchatel is still fresh in the memories of all the Swiss players and fans. On that occasion Escude won the fifth set of the fifth rubber over George Bastl.

Russia's hopes of defending the title went up in smoke, when it lost to Argentina. The South American team blanked Russia 5-0. Nalbandian and Gaudio gave Argentina a superb start, winning both their singles matches. Then Lucas Arnold and Nalbandian recorded 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Mikhail Youzhny (a late replacement for the injured Marat Safin) in the doubles in two hours 36 minutes. The Argentines held an unassailable 3-0 lead and were through to the semifinals. Argentina will face Spain in Spain. Both countries favour clay and so home advantage may not be that much important.

In the doubles, Argentina's Nalbandian and Arnold seemed a little lacklustre in the beginning. Arnold, in particular, appeared to find it hard to get into the tie, having not played for a long time. A couple of double faults in his opening service game also suggested some nerves; the game was lost and Russia had an early 2-0 lead.

The match then settled into a pattern of frequent break of serves. After breaking Nalbandian for 5-3 lead, with some good serving by Kafelnikov, including an ace, the first set was closed out at 6-3. Stung by this, the Argentines responded and were soon 3-0 up, having broken Kafelnikov's serve and levelled the tie at one set all, taking the second at 6-3.

Then again, the first five games of the third set were all breaks of serve. Finally, Nalbandian served to a 4-2 lead, and despite a wobble on Arnold's serve, they kept the advantage to win the set 6-4. And Argentina was now one set away for a place in the semifinal. The match was punctuated by some brilliant exchanges, followed by rather ordinary display.

Finally, a flashing forehand crosscourt pass from Nalbandian broke Kafelnikov, before Nalbandian himself held serve 5-3.

Russia was down 15-40 on Youzhny's serve and two of the best points of the match brought it back to deuce. But again Nalbandian was the difference, a winning return setting up a third match and tie point. This time Argentina was not to be denied, and a stinging drive from Nalbandian forced the error from Youzhny.

"In my heart I expected it," said a delighted Argentine captain, Gustavo Luza. "I knew it would be a tough match with lots of service breaks, but it turned out well for us in the end."

As the crowd danced, music blared from the loudspeakers and champagne flowed on court, the Russians went out of court unnoticed, a sad end to the defending champion.

Australia scored a resounding 5-0 victory over Sweden in the quarterfinal. It was only the second time, the last being in 1964, that Australia has scored such a decisive victory over Sweden. Australia enjoyed a tremendous weekend defeating Sweden for the seventh time in nine Davis Cup meetings.

Philippoussis gave Australia a winning start as he overcame Bjorkman in straight sets. Then World No.1 Lleyton Hewitt made short work of Thomas Enqvist. Wayne Arthurs combined well with legend Todd Woodbridge to defeat Bjorkman and Enqvist in straight sets.

Arthurs and Woodbridge played their finest match as a team. Woodbridge served brilliantly and then split his opponents down the middle with groundstrokes that sizzled. Australian captain John Fitzgerald said it was the best he had seen them play.

In the dead reverse singles rubbers, Arthurs, who replaced Lleyton Hewitt, defeated Joachim Johansson, a replacement for Jonas Bjorkman, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) and then Mark Philippoussis defeated Magnus Norman, who took the place of Thomas Enqvist, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.

"It was a fantastic result. Any win away from home is great but to beat a team as good as Sweden is extra special. Everything clicked this weekend," said Australian captain John Fitzgerald. "I could not be any more proud of the boys than I am right now. Every one of them did their part. It was a great weekend and they all play very good tennis. To play at home is always an advantage but I feel like we also have a team that is competitive everywhere and on every surface," added Fitzgerald. "The Swiss are a great team and Roger Federer is just a world class player."

The win was extra special for Woodbridge who has now won 21 Davis Cup doubles matches, making him the leading player for Australia in Davis Cup doubles. "I was unaware going into the doubles match that I could break that record," said Woodbridge.

Spain will look forward with complete confidence to a home clash with Argentina in the semifinals, after completing a 5-0 victory over Croatia. Carlos Ferrero put it past youngster Mario Ancic in the opening tie while World No.4 Carlos Moya prevailed over Ljubicic. Then the pair of Albert Costa and Alex Corretja clinched the doubles tie convincingly. Costa claimed the dead rubber for Spain with a commanding 6-3, 6-4 win over Ivan Ljubicic, and Alex Corretja made it 5-0 by beating Mario Ancic 7-5, 6-3.

"Argentina have a very strong team on clay," Spanish captain Jordi Arrese said. "I think it's going to be tough but we will be playing at home and that's a advantage for us."

The results (quarterfinals):

Switzerland bt France 3-2 (Bastl lost to Grosjean 3-6, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6; Federer bt Escude 6-4, 7-5, 6-2; Federer & Rosset bt Escude & Santoro 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4); Federer bt Santoro 6-1, 6-0, 6-2; Bastl lost to Escude 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 6-7 (3-7)).

Australia bt Sweden 5-0 (Philippoussis bt Bjorkman 6-4 6-3, 6-3; Hewitt bt Enqvist 6-4, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4; Arthurs & Woodbridge bt Bjorkman & Enqvist 6-4, 6-2, 6-2; Arthurs bt Johansson 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4); Philippoussis bt Norman 7-5, 5-7,6-3).

Spain bt Croatia 5-0 (Ferrero bt Ancic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1); Moya bt Ljubicic 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4; Corretja & Costa bt Ljubicic & Zovko 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Costa bt Ljubicic 6-3, 6-4; Corretja bt Ancic 7-5, 6-3).

Argentina bt Russia 5-0 (Nalbandian bt Davydenko 6-2, 6-2, 7-5; Gaudio bt Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-0, 6-2; Arnold & Nalbandian bt Kafelnikov & Youzhny 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3; Zabaleta bt Youzhny 6-1, 6-4; Gaudio bt Davydenko 7-6 (7-4), 6-3).