Russia hoping Safin will face US in Davis Cup final

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MOSCOW, Sep 24 (Reuters) Russia captain Shamil Tarpishchev hopes charismatic leader Marat Safin will be fit for their Davis Cup final with the United States after his team had to battle their way past Germany at the weekend.

Trailing 2-1 after losing Saturday's semi-final doubles, the defending champions won both reverse singles yesterday to line up the mouthwatering clash in the States from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.

Without Safin, who was taking a break from tennis last week to scale mountains in the Himalayas, the Russians struggled on a slow clay court at the Olympic sports complex.

They needed inspired performances from both Igor Andreev and Mikhail Youzhny to preserve a 14-match winning streak on home soil, dating back to the 1995 final.

Former world number one Safin, who powered Russia to Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006, would clearly be an asset against a powerful U.S. team featuring two top 10 players in the world in Andy Roddick and James Blake.

''Hopefully Safin will be back for the final. We have five solid players on our team and barring any injury, all five will travel to America,'' Tarpishchev told reporters.

''Then, we can decide who's going to play.'' The Russians are particularly vulnerable in the doubles, especially facing the Bryan brothers, twins Mike and Bob, who have a 12-1 record in Davis Cup doubles play.

''Maybe we need a set of twin brothers to have a good doubles team,'' suggested Dmitry Tursunov and Youzhny after they were humiliated by Alexander Waske, suffering from an elbow injury, and 262nd-ranked Philipp Petzschner in Saturday's doubles.

But Tarpishchev, dubbed a tennis genius by some of his colleagues after leading Russia to three Fed Cup and two Davis Cup titles in the last five years, is not about to panic.

''You always have a chance, no matter if the odds are against you,'' he said. ''They have a great doubles team, but I think we have a good chance in singles.'' CONFIDENT TARPISHCHEV Tarpishchev, who is trying to become the first captain to lead his teams to both the Fed and Davis Cups in the same year, had been confident over victory long before Andreev clinched the tie by winning the deciding rubber.

''Actually I thought about playing the US even before we beat the Germans. That's why I applied for my US visa a long time ago,'' said Tarpishchev.

''Last time it was a nightmare,'' he added, recalling the bureaucratic wrangles as he tried to get a US visa for the Fed Cup semi-final against the Americans in Vermont two months ago.

Both teams will have a point to prove when the Davis Cup final gets underway in two months' time.

Russia will try to avenge a 3-2 defeat in the 1995 final in Moscow when Pete Sampras won all three of his rubbers to lead the US to a record 31st Davis Cup title.

The Americans, who have not won since, are also looking for revenge after losing last year's semi-final by the same score in Moscow.

Reuters BJR GC1928

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