Edge of the seat affairs

It is a joyous moment for Spain as Carlos Moya is thrown in the air by his team-mates after he defeated Argentina's Gaston Gaudio in the last singles match of their Davis Cup semi-final at Malaga. Moya won in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to take his team into the final.-REUTERS

SPAIN made it to its fourth Davis Cup final battling past Argentina 3-2 in the semifinal held from September 19 to 21 at Malaga, Spain. Australia overcame Switzerland 3-2 in the other semifinal and will take on Spain in the final scheduled from November 28 to 30 in Melbourne.

SPAIN made it to its fourth Davis Cup final battling past Argentina 3-2 in the semifinal held from September 19 to 21 at Malaga, Spain. Australia overcame Switzerland 3-2 in the other semifinal and will take on Spain in the final scheduled from November 28 to 30 in Melbourne.

Spain raced to a 2-0 lead against Argentina, with French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero putting it across 25-year-old Gaston Gaudio in straight sets, and then former World No. 1 Carlos Moya fought past Mariano Zabaleta in five sets, after being 0-2 down.

Missing Guillermo Coria and David Nalbandian through injury, and then losing both the opening singles, Argentina needed something special to put up any sort of fight and Agustin Calleri provided it. The 27-year-old, who took a break from the tennis tour to help in his father's winery, put in a sparkling performance. He paired up with Lucas Arnold and the duo overcame Ferrero and Costa to reduce the margin to 1-2. Then, in the reverse singles, Calleri produced a stunning game to beat Ferrero 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 to take the semifinal into a live fifth rubber.

When Carlos Moya and Gaston Gaudio went out at 3 o'clock to play the deciding match, the outcome still seemed 50-50. Moya had been disappointing in his first singles, beating Zabaleta thanks only to his opponent cramping within sight of victory, while Gaudio had lost just twice in 15 Davis Cup rubbers.

But Moya showed spirit and gumption, beating Gaudio 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in style. The Argentine didn't have much of a chance really. "He (Moya) played like the No. 1 today," said Argentina's captain Gustavo Luza, who could at least go home with his head held high after what he called "Black Friday". Moya himself concurred: "I was focussed from the beginning, and I played a brilliant game."

Argentina's Agustin Calleri is delighted after shocking Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero. At right is the Argentine team captain Gustavo Luceta.-REUTERS

Moya came out determined and gave no time to Gaudio. He rushed him into mistakes from the beginning, making use of his big forehand and charged to the net whenever it made sense. He won the first four games and even when Gaudio started to hold serve in the second set, Moya still looked the stronger player.

The one time Gaudio threatened to worry Moya was when the Spaniard served for the second set. Moya led 5-4, 40-0, but Gaudio then played two great points to get back to 40-30. But on the third set point Moya went for a big forehand and hit a clean winner wide of Gaudio's lunging racket. That gave him the set, and when he won the match half an hour later, he sank to the court in relief and joy.

With Australia talking about playing November's final on grass, Moya could be the key factor for Spain. Though he had performed disappointingly at Wimbledon, he was a semifinalist in Halle five years ago, and his big serve and delightful touch at the net could see him as Spain's best weapon. Even if Tennis Australia chooses the traditional Rebound Ace surface of the Rod Laver Arena, Moya can draw on his experience of reaching the Australian Open final in 1997.

And to point out a curious statistical detail: whenever Spain reaches a Davis Cup final, it's always the Australians standing between the team and the Trophy. In 1965 Australia beat Manolo Santana's team in Sydney, in 1967 the same in Brisbane. In 2000, Spain won on the indoor clay of Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi, with Ferrero hitting the winning backhand past Lleyton Hewitt, and this time it will be at Melbourne Park.

"We're going to have a difficult tie against Australia," Moya said, "but we have to go there with nothing to lose and give our best. My colleagues have won the Davis Cup already, but hopefully it's going to be a special moment for me to be in a final for the first time."

Lleyton Hewitt of Australia thanks the crowd, even as his team-mates congratulate him, after he scored an astonishing comeback victory against Switzerland's Roger Federer in the reverse singles.-RYAN PIERSE/GETTY IMAGES

In the other semifinal against Switzerland, in Melbourne, Lleyton Hewitt won both his matches to put Australia into the final. In the first rubber, Hewitt had no problems in disposing of Michel Kratochvil 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, but the Wimbledon champion Roger Federer equalised when he thrashed Mark Philippoussis 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3). Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge gave Australia a 2-1 lead when the pair defeated Federer and Marc Rosset, leaving Hewitt to clinch the tie. The 22-year-old Hewitt, who has slipped to No. 7 in the ATP Entry system, rose like a phoenix to beat Federer 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-1. Hewitt later declared it was the number one victory of his career and anyone who was privileged to see the match against Federer in the Davis Cup semifinal would certainly not disagree with him.

With Hewitt starting off poorly, Federer had what should have been a winning lead in a do-or-die match for Switzerland. Australia was 2-1 up and so Federer had to win to keep his country's hopes alive. He was well and truly on the road to doing just that as he was in the lead by two sets and 5-3 up in the third.

But then, like a gust of wind, Hewitt broke back as Federer served for the match and the comeback began. Point by point, game by game, Hewitt just kept fighting. The third set went to a tiebreak and Hewitt won it. The Australian went up 5-2 in the fourth but this time Federer rallied to make it 5-5. Hewitt held serve and then, in a game filled with tension, Hewitt broke Federer. The point that gave him the fourth set was almost beyond description.

A rapidfire exchange ended when Hewitt played a reflex backhand scoop volley that landed beyond the Swiss No. 1. As the ball's trajectory began to dip Hewitt also tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his stomach. He lifted his head enough to see the yellow fluff land inside the baseline. His arms went out making him look like a skydiver and when he got to his feet he was pumping his heart. He said soon after his victory that he felt it was at that point Federer's confidence began to drop off.

One got a feeling that the 2002 Wimbledon champion had broken the spirit of the 2003 Wimbledon champion. Hewitt ran away with the fifth set to win the match in three hours 31 minutes, securing Australia's place in the Davis Cup final.

The Australian jumped so high on the last point that he would have put a basketballer to shame. He declared to the packed crowd at the Rod Laver Arena: "This beats the hell out of winning Wimbledon and the US Open. These are the matches I play for. I think everyone knows how passionate I am about Davis Cup and even if you had won Wimbledon or the US Open, the feeling I had out there on the Centre Court serving for that match, you just want to box that up and keep it forever," said Hewitt. "It's the most electric feeling you could ever have. I am so passion<147,3,1>ate about playing for Australia that to have all the crowd standing up like that it was incredible. I'm a little bit speechless. I felt like I was in a dream at the end."

Credit must be given to Federer for the tennis he played in the second set when there was barely anything that Hewitt could do. No one could have beaten Federer the way he was playing. He played like a genius and as Australian captain John Fitzgerald said, "His tennis racquet is like a magic wand."

Wayne Arthurs (left) and Todd Woodbridge of Australia celebrate after winning the doubles rubber.-MARK DADSWELL/GETTY IMAGES

Hewitt said he just had to stay positive and keep trying to find chinks in Federer's game. The hint of a chance came in the ninth game of the third set. Hewitt had come back from two sets to love down only once before, at Roland Garros in 2001 against Guillermo Canas, but fading light in the fifth set interrupted that match. Hewitt laughed saying, "The guys said that one didn't count, this one does."

Hewitt said his memories went back to the Davis Cup match that Pat Cash had played against Mikael Pernfors in the 1986 final in Melbourne — a match he had watched over and over again. "I can tell you about every point in that match," he said. It inspired him against Federer and helped in his comeback.

"This is a dream. A lot of people have had a go at my form over the year, but this should shut everyone up," he said. Of the match, Fitzgerald said, taking into account the calibre of the opposition, "That's as good as it gets and that has to be right up there with any performance by an Australian Davis Cup player ever."

In the `dead' fifth rubber, Kratochvil defeated Todd Woodbridge — a replacement for Philippoussis. The Swiss No. 2 had won the first set 6-4 when Woodbridge retired leaving the final tie score at 3-2 to Australia.

By reaching the 2003 Davis Cup final, Australia has moved back into second place in the latest ITF Davis Cup nations ranking, pushing Russia to third spot. Spain, also through to the final, remains in fourth place. The top spot is still held by France.

The results (semifinals):

Spain bt Argentina 3-2 (Juan Carlos Ferrero bt Gaston Gaudio 6-4, 6-0, 6-0; Carlos Moya bt Mariano Zabaleta 5-7, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1; Alex Corretja/Albert Costa lost to Lucas Arnold/Agustin Calleri 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6; Ferrero lost to Calleri 4-6, 5-7, 1- 6; Moya bt Gaudio 6-1, 6-4, 6-2).

Australia bt Switzerland 3-2 (Lleyton Hewitt bt Michel Kratochvil 6-4, 6-4, 6-1; Mark Philippoussis lost to Roger Federer 3-6, 4-6, 6-7 (3-7); Wayne Arthurs/Todd Woodbridge bt Federer/Marc Rosset 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-4, 6-4; Hewitt bt Federer 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-1; Woodbridge lost to Kratochvil 4-6 retd.).