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(E) Underdog Croatia faces Spain in Davis Cup
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  04/3/2003 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Underdog Croatia faces Spain in Davis Cup


Underdog Croatia faces Spain in Davis Cup

Posted: Thursday April 03, 2003 11:33 AM

LONDON (AP) -- Croatia is counting on hard-serving Ivan Ljubicic to repeat his Davis Cup heroics all over all again. 

Two months after almost single-handedly beating the United States, Ljubicic is away from home in Spain, on the opposition's favorite clay surface and against three of the world's top ten players in Croatia's Davis Cup quarterfinal. 

The Spaniards are so strong, reigning French Open champion Albert Costa can only get a game in the doubles. 

Meanwhile, the underdog Croats are without injured former Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic and Ljubicic is the team's highest ranked player at 53. 

"Our players are clearly superior. More solid," Spanish coach Jordi Arrese said. 

Ljubicic won both his singles and the doubles with Ivanisevic in February over an undermanned U.S. Davis Cup team. 

Friday, he plays world No. 4 Carlos Moya in second singles, on Sunday it's world No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero. 

In between, he pairs up with Lovro Zovko for the doubles against Costa and Alex Corretja at the Valencia Tennis Club. Mario Ancic opens against Ferrero on Friday and plays Moya on Sunday. 

Ljubicic has targeted Moya as his best opportunity. 

"I think I do have a chance in that one," Ljubicic said. "He might not have had enough time to prepare himself on clay and I have beaten him three times before. Those matches were all difficult, though, and this one is on clay so I'm expecting it to be even tougher." 

Ferrero is 8-2 in Davis Cup play in Spain, Moya is 9-1 and even Costa is 6-3 when playing singles. 

"You cannot think you're going to have an easy time, not when I lost to Ljubicic three times" already, Moya said. "He's a difficult player to beat. He has a good serve. He's very fast." 

It's the first time the two countries have played each other in Davis Cup. 

Defending champion Russia will only have Marat Safin fit for doubles against Argentina in Buenos Aires. Russia's top player aggravated an ankle injury in practice on the outdoor clay of the River Plate Club on Monday. 

He was drawn Thursday with Yevgeny Kafelnikov to play doubles against David Nalbandian and Lucas Arnold. 

Safin is replaced in singles play by Nikolai Davydenko, who will face last year's Wimbledon runnerup Nalbandian in Friday's opening match. The second singles match pits Kafelnikov against Gaston Gaudio. 

In Sunday's reverse singles, it's Kafelnikov vs. Nalbandian and Davydenko vs. Gaudio. 

Russia beat France in last year's Davis Cup finals for its first title. The Russians dispatched Argentina in the semifinals in Moscow. 

In Malmoe, Sweden will again rely on veteran Jonas Bjorkman against a strong Australian side on the indoor hardcourts of the Baltiska Hallen stadium. 

Bjorkman opens the tie against former U.S. Open runnerup Mark Philippoussis on Friday, then teams up with Thomas Enqvist for the doubles before playing world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in Sunday's reverse singles. 

Enqvist is also playing all three days. With wins this year over Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerten, he plays Hewitt on Friday and Philippoussis on Sunday. 

Australian captain John Fitzgerald picked Bjorkman's regular partner, Todd Woodbridge, and Wayne Arthurs for the doubles. 

This is the ninth meeting between two of the most successful Davis Cup nations with Australia holding a 6-2 advantage. They last played in September 2001, with the Aussies winning a hard-fought semifinal in Sydney to reach its 46th final. 

In Toulouse, France is confident of extending its 9-1 Davis Cup record over Switzerland on the indoor hardcourts of the Le Zenith Stadium, but must overcome Roger Federer's speed and power. 

Federer, ranked fifth in the world, will play Nicolas Escude on Friday and Sebastien Grosjean on Sunday. He joins Marc Rosset for Saturday's doubles against Michael Llodra and Grosjean. 

"Federer hits the ball with phenomenal speed and timing," France captain Guy Forget said. "His power is incredible. This is a player we must be very wary of." 

Switzerland's other singles player is George Bastl, who last year beat Pete Sampras in the second round of Wimbledon. He plays Grosjean in Friday's opener and Escude in reverse singles. 

France's last Davis Cup win over the Swiss side came in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 2001 -- a tense 3-2 victory that was decided when Nicolas Escude won the final set of the final match. 

Rosset is the Switzerland captain but steps in to play his 57th Davis Cup tie because of an injury to Michel Kratochvil. 

Copyright © 2003 CNN/Sports Illustrated. 

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