By Erik Kirschbaum
Duesseldorf, Germany - Australia beat Russia 2-1 in the finals of the $2,1-million (about R16,8-million) World Team Cup on Saturday with a riveting performance from two underdogs.
Wayne Arthurs and Scott Draper, who filled in for an injured Pat Rafter and is ranked 138th in the ATP Champions Race, teamed up to beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 6-4 to take the $500 000 first place prize money. Arthurs is ranked 59th in the ATP Champions Race.
"I'm really thrilled how everyone played," said Australia team captain Darren Cahill.
"Australia came here to play their hearts out and to win," he added, indicating that no one on his team was looking beyond the tournament to the French Open.
"It's a big tradition in Australia when you play for the Australian flag you give it your all. It's always a thrill to play for Australia and to represent your country."
Australia, who have reached the finals a record eight times, have now won the title twice in the last three years.
For Kafelnikov and Safin, who also lost last year's final to Slovakia, it was a bitter defeat coming just before the start of the French Open on Monday. Safin, the US Open champion, is seeded second in Paris and Olympic champion Kafelnikov is seventh.
"It is very disappointing to lose, but Australia played very well," Kafelnikov said. "They were excellent today. The better team won."
However Kafelnikov, the 1996 French Open and 1999 Australian Open champion, said he believed his game was peaking at the right time.
"Even though there are other favourites I think I demonstrated here that I have my game back and I can be dangerous to any of the favourites.
"I have the experience and know what it takes."
Kafelnikov and Safin won $320 000 for second place in the tournament that pits the world's top eight tennis nations in a week of round-robin play.
Earlier Kafelnikov had beaten Draper easily in the second singles match 6-2 6-4 to square the final at one match apiece.
Kafelnikov needed less than an hour to beat Draper, after Lleyton Hewitt defeated Safin in the opening match of the final.
After easing through the first set, Kafelnikov broke his left-handed opponent in the fifth game of the second set and was never under pressure in cruising to an easy win.
Hewitt, by contrast, had a tougher time with Safin, before claiming a 6-3 6-4 victory in the tournament that pits the world's top eight tennis nations in round-robin play.
Hewitt broke Safin early in the first set and in the seventh game of the second to down Safin, the US Open champion who is seeded second in the French Open beginning on Monday.
Hewitt, who is seeded sixth in Paris, played with confidence and accuracy under the brilliant blue skies.
He set the tone firing two aces to open the match and had Safin dashing back and forth across the court trying to keep up with his whipped backhand returns.
Safin, who had looked sharp in beating American Pete Sampras and Argentina's Franco Squillari during the round-robin stages earlier in the week long tournament, grew frustrated at a series of unlucky net cords.
After losing the first set, Safin fought hard in the second, but repeatedly squandered chances to break Hewitt.
Hewitt finally broke Safin in the seventh game of the second set, prompting the temperamental Russian to hit a ball out of the stadium into a nearby refreshment stand.
Rafter apologised to the fans, saying he had an inflammation in his right arm that made it impossible to play.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I tried to play in practice today, but I've played quite a few matches this week and my arm is sore."
Rafter later told journalists he expected to be ready for the French Open, where he is seeded eighth.
"I'm in a lot of pain which I already felt after the first competition day when I played a singles and doubles match," Rafter added. "I could have played today with just 70 percent and only under a lot of pain. I'm really disappointed." - Reuters