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The Musketeers? Oh la la – not this year…

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:30

The Czech Republic sent a highly-rated France squad crashing out of the Davis Cup in the World Group first round with a 3-2 victory in Ostrava.

Radek Stepanek saw off Gilles Simon 7-6(2) 6-3 7-6(0) on Sunday to give the Czech Republic an unassailable 3-1 lead against a highly-rated France squad crashing out of Davis Cup contention.

French captain Guy Forget had likened the squad to the ‘Musketeers’ – legends Henri Cochet, Rene Lacoste, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon – who won every Davis Cup between 1927 and 1932.

France had been hugely optimistic of repeating that success with a line-up including Simon, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet – all current or former top-10 players – along with doubles specialist Michael Llodra.

“Apart from perhaps the Musketeers, we’ve never had such a strong French team on paper in our history,” said Forget. But Tomas Berdych upset Simon in the first rubber and, after Tsonga blitzed Stepanek, the Czechs again edged ahead with victory in Saturday’s doubles.

Stepanek then condemned Simon to his second defeat of the weekend, setting up a home quarter-final against last year’s runners-up Argentina, whose inexperienced team still whitewashed the Netherlands 5-0 in Buenos Aires.

Despite the tie being played over two days, Rafael Nadal cruised to a second straight-sets win on his return from injury. His 6-4 6-4 6-1 win over Novak Djokovic put defending champions Spain into the Davis Cup quarter-finals on the clay of Benidorm.

The hosts, leading 2-1 overnight after playing three rubbers on Saturday, were in a commanding position after two singles victories before Serbia kept the tie alive in the doubles. Viktor Troicki, replacing Djokovic, partnered Nenad Zimonjic to beat Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez 7-6(5) 6-4 7-6(7).

But Nadal finished the job, claiming the decisive rubber to set up a July quarter-final with either Germany, who beat Austria 3-2. For Serbia, their wait to progress to the World Group quarter-finals for the first time goes on.

“The clay is Spain’s surface,” world No.3 Djokovic conceded after four-time French Open champion Nadal notched his first clay-court wins of 2009.

“This was an important win for us,” Nadal said – sentiments echoed by new Spain skipper Albert Costa. Given the strength of the Serbian squad, he added: “this could really have been the final.”

Elsewhere, singles substitute Dmitry Tursunov came back from two sets down to win 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-2 against Romanian No.1 Victor Hanescu to seal victory for Russia.

Tursunov, replacing Marat Safin in a Russian squad already missing Nikolay Davydenko, finally composed himself at the start of the third set after an erratic performance for the first hour of the match.

“I was making far too many errors in the first two sets,” Tursunov said afterwards. “But after falling two sets behind I was able to calm myself down and as a result started playing much better. In the fifth set I saw that he was tired so I tried to put more pressure on him and it worked.”

Russia now face Israel, who edged past Sweden 3-2 in Malmo behind closed doors amidst security concerns and angry anti-Israeli demonstrations in the city.

Harel Levy, the loser a year ago as Sweden came back from 2-1 down on the final day in Tel Aviv, completed a remarkable comeback for the visitors, defeating home town player Andreas Vinciguerra 6-4 4-6 6-4 3-6 8-6 in a mammoth 3 hour 34 minute tie. It was the day’s second five-setter in Israel’s favour, after Dudi Sela beat veteran Thomas Johansson to level the tie.

It was the second time a Davis Cup tie was played without fans in Sweden. In 1975, two years after a military coup in Chile led by Augusto Pinochet, Sweden played Chile in an empty stadium.

Andy Roddick was the all-American hero in Alabama, sealing USA victory over a Switzerland squad missing world No.2 Roger Federer.

A determined Roddick drove past Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4 6-4 6-2 to seal the tie 3-1 and overtake Andre Agassi’s 30 Davis Cup wins. Only John McEnroe has more rubbers to his name than the Texan.

The US now face Croatia, after Mario Ancic and Marin Cilic claimed both opening sinlges rubbers before teaming up in the doubles to beat Chile’s Nicolas Massu and Paul Capdeville 6-3 6-3 3-6 6-4 on home soil in Porec.

Results: Davis Cup World Group first round:

Argentina 5-0 Netherlands
Czech Rep 3-2 France
USA 3-1 Switzerland
Croatia 5-0 Chile
Sweden 2-3 Israel
Romania 1-4 Russia
Germany 3-2 Austria
Spain 4-1 Serbia

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