Tue, 08 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Ljubicic stuns Roddick to lead Croatia past U.S.

Reuters, Carson, California

Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic stunned Andy Roddick 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-7 6-2 to give his country an unassailable 3-1 lead over the United States in their Davis Cup World Group first round tie on Sunday.

Ljubicic has almost single-handedly dismantled the U.S. squad with victory over world number three Roddick, a three-set destruction of Andre Agassi on Friday and a four-set doubles triumph against the Bryan brothers with Mario Ancic on Saturday.

In the dead singles rubber, Bob Bryan beat Roko Karanusic 6-2 3-6 6-1 for a final 3-2 margin of victory for the visitors.

"This is going to be huge at home and around the world," Ljubicic said.

"To beat Andre, the Bryans and Roddick in three days, it's a great effort.

"When I came here, I was thinking I could win just one singles, to keep up the momentum and keep the confidence up. I did it all the way so it's amazing."

Despite playing in front of a raucous partisan crowd of more than 6,500, Ljubicic matched Roddick's booming serve, dominated with his backhand and converted on the big points.

In a titanic three-hour, 58 minute struggle, Ljubicic coolly fought off set points in the third set tiebreaker and maintained his composure in the latter stages despite double-faulting the lose the fourth set.

It was Roddick's failure to seize control of the third set tiebreaker that may have been his undoing.

He failed to convert on three set points, the first where he netted an easy forehand, and the second and third where he watched Ljubicic hit two forehand winners.

Roddick fought off three set points of his own, but at 11-11, the Croatian hit a service winner and then watched Roddick miss an inside out forehand to grab the set.

"There were many points that didn't go our way," Roddick said. "We didn't go out and take them."

In Strasbourg, a tearful Paul-Henri Mathieu buried his Davis Cup demons on Sunday to lead France into the quarterfinals with an emotional victory over Thomas Johansson.

The 22-year-old Mathieu, who blew a two-set lead in the decisive match of the 2002 final against Russia's Mikhail Youzhny, survived the loss of two match points in the third set to beat the Swede 6-1 6-4 6-7 6-4 and clinch a 3-2 win in Strasbourg.

His relief was palpable as he blinked tears from his eyes and accepted the hugs of captain Guy Forget and his teammate Sebastien Grosjean who had earlier lost to Joachim Johansson to force the decisive match.

Mathieu said: "It was tough mentally when he came back to two sets to one. But I was at home in Strasbourg and I had to look for that victory deep in my heart."

But he may get a chance to exact revenge against Youzhny as France next plays Russia -- 4-1 winners over ------------------------------------ Davis Cup last eight

(Home country first):

Slovakia v Netherlands Australia v Argentina Russia v France Croatia v Romania * Ties to be played July 15-17. --------------------