— Spain ended more than three decades of Davis Cup anguish today, reaching the final with a sweep of an American squad thrown together slapdash by captain John McEnroe after the pullout of its best players.
Alex Corretja and Juan Balcells clinched the best-of-five series and set off a delirious dancing celebration with a 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 doubles victory over Todd Martin and Chris Woodruff that rendered Sunday’s singles matches meaningless.
Spain, a Davis Cup finalist only in 1965 and 1967, will play for its first title against Australia in Barcelona in December.
The U.S. pair gave everything to come back from two sets to one down and force a decider, with the 30-year-old Martin seeming to grow in strength as a fierce battle went on.
But after an immense effort to save his serve in game six of the fifth set, which saw him fire in two second-service aces, Martin finally began to tire in the closing stages.
Two volley errors from the lofty American set up a service break for Spain in Woodruff’s next game and a decisive 5-3 lead for the home side.
Balcells duly served out to love to clinch a superb win for Spain and a final on home soil in December against Australia, the side who beat them on their last appearance in the final in Brisbane back in 1967.
The Australians also beat Spain in Sydney in the final in 1965.
“It’s a wonderful achievement for Spanish tennis,” said home captain Javier Duarte. “We have some superb players and without them we wouldn’t be in the final.”
A jubilant Corretja added: “We’re proud of ourselves for getting to the final, which we’re determined to win it.”
Spain Lives Up to Favored Billing
Spain had been the strong favorite to win the tie given the absence of American stars Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and the clay court surface, on which few of the Americans are truly comfortable.
And the writing was on the wall for the U.S. as they lost both Friday’s singles, Albert Costa beating an out-of-sorts Martin 6-4 6-4 6-4 and Corretja overcoming a determined Jan-Michael Gambill 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-4.
Today’s doubles defeat was another case of missed opportunities for the Americans, as they passed up four set-points in the opening set, which Spain took 8-6 on the tie-break.
“If we had won that first set I think we would have gone on to take the match,” said a frustrated U.S. captain John McEnroe.
“We really should have won it in three or four sets.”
Missed Chances for Americans
Balcells lost his serve at the start of the second, which the U.S. took with ease. But a Woodruff return of a volley into the net gave Spain a 2-1 lead with a break.
After another early break of the Balcells serve in the fourth set, Martin missed a set-point when serving at 5-3 but the U.S. held on to take the tie-break 7-5.
The game turned Spain’s way again in Martin’s first service game in the decider, as between them Corretja and Balcells somehow returned three powerful overheads from the baseline to take a 2-0 lead.
Balcells consolidated that break by serving to love for a 3-0 lead.
A brilliant Woodruff return secured a break back in Corretja’s next service game before Martin’s heroics in saving his own serve took the score back to 3-3.
Spain, cheered on by a fiercely patriotic 12,000 crowd, proved too strong in the closing stages, however, and a backhand return from Corretja clinched the crucial break and a 5-3 lead before Balcell’s perfect service game rounded off the win.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.