The Scud lands the trophy for Aussies

Mark Philippoussis battled pain and exhaustion to outlast Juan Carlos Ferrero in the reverse singles which clinched the Davis Cup for Australia. -- Pic. REUTERS-

MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS had tears streaming down his face in the Rod Laver Arena. The people who mattered most to him, his father Nick, captain John Fitzgerald, teammates, were all overflowing with emotion.

MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS had tears streaming down his face in the Rod Laver Arena. The people who mattered most to him, his father Nick, captain John Fitzgerald, teammates, were all overflowing with emotion. His father in particular felt so proud that he wiped his eyes time and again. It was a moment the injury-ravaged Philippoussis, nicknamed the `Scud', would cherish. For the 28th time, the famous trophy would be residing Down Under for a year more.

Mark Philippoussis clinched the Davis Cup for Australia, when an overhead winner he struck against Juan Carlos Ferrero was dot on target. The three-hour 13 minute contest enabled the Australian script a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 2-6, 6-0 win to give Australia a well-deserved 3-1 victory. As Philippoussis collapsed to the turf in celebration, it was the end of not just a long week, but of a 15-month quest by Australia to get its hands on the coveted trophy.

It was a roller coaster ride that stunned everyone and even Philippoussis, playing a Davis Cup tie for only the second time in front of his home crowd, was lost for words. He could not explain how he won that fifth set as he was writhing in pain from his injured right shoulder.

"To be quite honest I don't know what happened in the fifth," said Philippoussis who also played the winning match for Australia the last time it won the Davis Cup, in 1999 in Nice. "I just came out there, I went to the bathroom, the guys were saying `one more set, one more set'. I was just thinking I don't care how bad your pec (shoulder) is, just put everything into this last set. "I don't know how, especially in the fifth set. I honestly don't know. I just thought of the serve ... give it everything and then when I was returning I thought just chip and charge and come in on everything. If he passes you, too good. I was just going to come at anything. I don't know."

Philippoussis started the match in a far better manner than on the first day when he admitted he had been throwing up before the match against Carlos Moya because of nerves. This time he was positive and aggressive from the word go. He saved break points in the first game of the match and then broke Ferrero in the 12th to claim the set with a forehand cross-court volley winner.

The Australian punched the air with both fists and kept the momentum going and once again broke Ferrero, in the eighth game when the Spaniard netted a backhand and a game later the second set belonged to Australia when Ferrero sent a return wide. Australia was a set away from glory. But Ferrero is not a Grand Slam champion and one of the three best players in the world for nothing. When he broke Philippoussis in the second game of the third set after seven break points, the match began to turn. The Spaniard grew in confidence and he began to put pressure on Philippoussis whose service percentage was dwindling.

The third set fell to Spain and then the fourth. At that stage both players required treatment. Philippoussis took a bathroom break but then needed intense treatment on his right shoulder, while Ferrero was getting his thighs massaged in the hot conditions. And then the radical change came.

Lleyton Hewitt is naturally excited after putting Australia ahead in the opening singles. -- Pic. AFP-

"I don't think my mentality changed at all," said Ferrero. "I feel that I played pretty much the same in the third and fourth sets, as well as the first and second. I tried just as hard in the fifth. (My) arm was playing up, the serves weren't as good, and there was a lot of pressure on me from the start. Although he was having problems with the shoulder, I think he played just as well.

"I wasn't thinking anything special. I was thinking I have to steal, in the same way as the third and fourth sets and try to break his serves. I tried to keep fighting and keep going until I win the match, but finally it was impossible."

Philippoussis said the shoulder problem could be a tear and he will be having an MRI to determine the problem. He said the crowd played a huge part in the match. "It is what Davis Cup is all about, especially playing at home. This was a special victory. Every one of the team members scored a win."

"It's a special moment I guess for me," said Lleyton Hewitt who didn't have to play the final dead rubber, which was abandoned. "Personally I probably haven't had the greatest of years that I have had over the last two years before. I guess I sacrificed a lot of things to play Davis Cup and to play well in Davis Cup ties.

"There's no better feeling than holding that trophy up. For me the whole team did it, it was a team effort this whole weekend and everyone stood up for what they believed in."

In February 2002, Australia lost its World Group first round tie to Argentina with a depleted team that sank to a 0-5 defeat on the clay courts of the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club. Australia was condemned to a World Group Play-off tie that September, which put it against India for a place in the following year's World Group at stake. The Australians publicly declared that that tie was not simply a way of retaining World Group status, but the beginning of a quest for the 2003 Davis Cup. The Kangaroos, indeed, lived up to their promise.

Lleyton Hewitt duly turned up for the tie in Adelaide against the much lower-ranked Indian team, the Australians won 5-0 and the journey was underway. This year, a first round drubbing of a depleted British team on a temporary clay court in Sydney — the first clay court tie to be played in Australia — was followed by an equally emphatic win over Sweden in Malmo. Then it was back to Melbourne and Hewitt again took centre stage, defeating Roger Federer from two sets to love down in the fourth rubber to clinch the semifinal against Switzerland and a place in the final.

Once Spain had booked its place as well, two things were clear: this final would be seen, at least by some, as a chance for the Australians to avenge the defeat and perceived unfair treatment handed out by the Spanish in the 2000 Barcelona final; and secondly, the Australians would play on the same portable grass court on which they lost the 2001 final to France in the very same Rod Laver Arena.

Even before the first rubber between Lleyton Hewitt and Ferrero could start, controversy broke out. Wrong version of the Spanish National Anthem was played at an otherwise fine opening ceremony. The watching Spanish Sports Minister was furious, and gestured to the Spanish team to stay on court until the proper anthem was played. John Fitzgerald apologised for the mistake, so that finally tennis could begin.

However, once it did, the lack of match play looked to be having a detrimental effect on Hewitt. Soon he found himself two sets to one down against the Spaniard. A tie-break loomed. And Hewitt rose to the occasion as only he can, playing an inspired run of points to take the tie-break to love, including one point where he played a forehand from on the ground. The tide had been turned, and the fifth set was one-way traffic, with Hewitt winning a terrific contest 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-0), 6-2 in 10 minutes short of four hours.

"I just played faultless tennis and I went for it and I laid it on the line for that breaker," he said. "If you get two sets all, you never know what is going to happen in a Davis Cup match," said Hewitt.

Carlos Moya then took to the court to face Philippoussis, in a match that many — including John Newcombe, this year's recipient of the Davis Cup Award of Excellence — felt the Spaniard could not win. Moya, however, surprised everyone with an attacking display of all-court tennis, including some effective serve-volleying (not his forte), to win 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) in 3 hours 15 minutes and level the tie at 1-1. Moya outserved Philippoussis and gave a controlled display of attacking all-court tennis, showing grass court skills he has rarely demonstrated in the past.

"I always have a special feeling with Davis Cup... I think not being in the team (in 2000 when Spain won the Cup) is helping me to be more motivated now," said Moya, who commented that Newcombe's pre-match dismissal of his chances had motivated him even more.

In the third rubber, Australian Todd Woodbridge pairing up with Wayne Arthurs turned in a near faultless exhibition of grass court tennis to defeat Alex Corretja and Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in just one hour 34 minutes. The Fanatics Supporters Club gave Corretja a hard time, but in truth no harder than he was being given in tennis terms. Woodbridge, playing in his 29th tie (he became the most-capped Australian Davis Cup player in history), was in blistering form, while Arthurs was busy exorcising his demons on the same court he lost the decisive fifth rubber to Nicolas Escude in 2001.

Todd Woodbridge (left) and Wayne Arthurs played near faultless tennis to take the doubles event . — Pic. AFP-

Woodbridge showed just how he has won eight men's doubles titles on Wimbledon's grass. His forehand in particular was a major weapon, with Feliciano Lopez often caught out at the net by the power and accuracy of the shot. "I think I've played a couple of Wimbledon finals where I've played that standard," said Woodbridge. "But when you look at the pressure and the situation, this is probably the outstanding one."

"That was probably the lowest I have felt on a tennis court," said Arthurs of that loss, "while today is probably one of the highest."

"I think I've played a couple of Wimbledon finals where I've played that standard," said Woodbridge. "But when you look at the pressure and the situation, this is probably the outstanding one."

Davis Cup debutant Feliciano Lopez certainly did not let his side down, but could do nothing to turn the rubber around against a pair Corretja recognised was `from another planet'.

In the fourth tie, Philippoussis had the chance to claim glory on his home turf against Ferrero, who was desperate not to let a year which had seen him claim his first Grand Slam title, reach another Grand Slam final, and become World No. 1 for a time, end with a sixth straight loss.

Philippoussis started strongly, and raced to a two sets to love lead, but Ferrero showed the fighting qualities that have served him and his team-mates well this year and won the next two sets. A fifth rubber looked likely, especially when Philippoussis had treatment before the final set began for a strained pectoral muscle.

The break disrupted Ferrero and revitalised Philippoussis, and despite pain and discomfort, Philippoussis pulled through 6-0 in the fifth set that sent the home crowd wild and reduced his father Nick to tears.

It was Australia's Davis Cup, its first on home soil since 1986 — the final was also played on grass then at Kooyong — and its 28th in all. With the win, Australia went to the top of the ITF Davis Cup Nations Ranking.

"There was no way I was going to pull out," said Philippoussis of his injury. "I mean, this is Davis Cup and you leave your heart out there.

"He also paid tribute to the crowd: "They were incredible. This is what Davis Cup is all about, especially playing at home. Today's win was definitely the most important win of my tennis career so far, without doubt."

He said that winning the Cup at home easily surpassed winning away in Nice in 1999. Lleyton Hewitt concurred, "There's no better feeling than holding that trophy up."

"The feeling is bad, the feeling is that of sadness and that's how all of us feel," said a dejected Ferrero.

"We came to Australia, we played on grass; the odds were not in our favour, but we are proud that we fought," said Moya. After all the build-up, the anthem mix-up, and talk of revenge, the overriding memories of this final will be a superb tie contested by two committed teams. Significantly, all four Australian players — the same four who had played in every tie this year — contributed a point in this final: team effort.