Russia's enviable record

Andy Roddick celebrates with team-mates following US's 4-1 victory over Spain.-AP

With the victory against France, Russia's unbeaten streak in Davis Cup at home, which began in 1995, continues.

Davis Cup performances have been the only consistencies in Marat Safin's chequered career. As he has done in the past, Safin pulled defending champion Russia out of trouble, after Nikolay Davydenko lost the first match.

Russian captain Shamil Tarpishev, as is his wont, came up with a masterstroke, opting to play Safin in the decider. The two-time Grand Slam winner has the knack of raising his game in such situations. Mathieu, a dangerous customer after beating Davydenko, couldn't do much after the first set.

"It was a pure accident," said Safin, who has a record of 29-18 in Davis Cups. "I have not been playing for a long time and won quite unexpectedly," he said. Though Safin's performance seems to be crucial in hindsight, Mikhael Youzhny's five-hour marathon win against Richard Gasquet was the turning point for the host. Youzhny needed treatment for his thigh, but summoned the resources required to slug it out in the final set. Russia's unbeaten streak at home continues, since 1995.

Unlike the Russians, the Americans could afford the luxury of two dead rubbers, after James Blake, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers gave USA an unassailable lead against Spain. What was most encouraging for the US was Roddick's attitude towards Davis Cup matches. "I want to be here," he said. "I don't think Davis Cup is something that you can play at your convenience."

"I feel that you start at the beginning of the year and you decide whether you're going to go through the long haul of it or not," Roddick said. "If it might be difficult or you're not playing in your comfort zone, then all of a sudden you don't want to play. I don't necessarily understand that or agree with it."

With possibilities of marquee clashes disappearing after Rafael Nadal's pull-out, Blake and Roddick played out their crucial singles matches as one would expect them to do.

Roddick was on fire against Fernando Verdasco. Showing no sings of the injury that almost kept him out of the rubber, Roddick served well and smacked across his forehand bolters, the most notable being the on-the-run winner that he executed impeccably.

Both Blake and Roddick were cheered on by huge crowds. "We were standing in the tunnel before introductions," Roddick explained. "I looked at the rest of the guys and said, `I dare you to not get goosebumps right now.' I think we all failed. It was great."

Blake's rubber against Robredo was a chance for redemption, after an indifferent two months for the American. "With Andy coming in off a slight injury, I really felt like it was time for James to step up and win a big match," said the U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe.

Robredo was clearly uncomfortable playing on the fast courts. "The court was so fast and it was difficult to play," Robredo said. "I didn't do a bad job. When you play with someone who is as good of a player as you and everything is in his favour, it's normal that it go to his side," he said.

America will meet Sweden in the semifinal, after the latter shocked 2006 runner-up Argentina. Thomas Johansson, ranked 73 in the world, fought hard after being a set-point down in the second set to beat world No. 12 David Nalbandian on the fast carpet surface.

Nalbandian is almost Safin-like in the way he has notched up crucial Davis Cup wins, but Johansson exploited his best surface and fed off home support.

"This was probably the best Davis Cup match I've ever played," said Johansson. "This is our best surface." Tommy Haas had it tough against Kristof Vliegen in Germany's quarterfinal against Belgium, but came through. With a 21-7 overall Cup win-loss record before his singles match against Vliegen, Haas was the favourite for the tie, but beating Vliegen was never going to be a cakewalk. "He (Vliegen) is a clever player and gave me a fright early on," Haas said. "It took me a while to get used to the court."

The Scores

At Moscow: Russia beat France 3-2 (Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) lost to Paul-Henri Mathieu (Fra) 6-2, 2-6, 1-6, 5-7; Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) beat Richard Gasquet (Fra) 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (8), 5-7, 8-6; Igor Andreev/Davydenko (Rus) beat Sebastian Grosjean/Michael Llodra (Fra) 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Andreev lost to Grosjean 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6; Marat Safin (Rus) beat Mathieu (Fra) 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2)

At Ostend, Belgium: Germany beat Belgium 3-2 (Tommy Haas (Ger) beat Kristof Vliegen (Bel) 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-2; Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) beat Olivier Rochus (Bel) 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (4); Michael Kohlmann/Alexander Waske (Ger) beat Christophe Rochus / O. Rochus (Bel) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1; C. Rochus beat Kohlmann 3-6, 6-4, 6-4; Dick Norman (Bel) beat Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-3)

At Winston-Salem, USA: USA beat Spain 4-1 (James Blake (USA) beat Tommy Robredo (Esp) 6-4, 6-3, 6-4; Andy Roddick (USA) beat Fernando Verdasco (Esp) 7-6 (5), 6-1, 6-4; Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) beat Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (Esp) 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5); B. Bryan (USA) lost to Robredo 4-6, 4-6; Blake beat Lopez 6-3, 7-6 (3))

At Gothenburg, Sweden: Sweden beat Argentina 4-1 (Thomas Johansson (Swe) beat David Nalbandian (Arg) 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 6-2, 7-6 (0); Robin Soderling (Swe) beat Juan-Martin Del Porto (Arg) 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4; Jonas Bjorkman/Johansson (Swe) beat Guillermo Canas/Nalbandian (Arg) 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3; Bjorkman (Swe) beat Sebastian Prieto (Arg) 6-1, 6-2; Robert Lindstedt (Swe) lost to Del Porto 6-7 (7), 4-6).

A Special Correspondent