US rely on home advantage against Russia

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LOS ANGELES, Nov 28 (Reuters) Holders Russia are banking on recent form while hosts the United States will pin their hopes on home advantage in this week's Davis Cup final.

Spearheaded by world number four Nikolay Davydenko, the Russians will be hunting their third Davis Cup title in six years when the three-day tie starts on Friday in Portland, Oregon.

Although the Americans are widely regarded as slight favourites on the slick, indoor surface at Memorial Coliseum, Russia have clearly established a winning formula in the sport's showpiece men's team event.

''I think a team of great coaches the Russians have had is a big factor,'' said captain Shamil Tarpishchev, who guided Russia to Davis Cup success over Argentina in last year's final in Moscow.

''We have a good foundation so I'm optimistic about the next five to six years.'' Apart from Davydenko, Russia will be represented by world number 19 Mikhail Youzhny, Igor Andreev (33rd) and Dmitry Tursunov (34th).

However, Tarpishchev concedes the Americans will be difficult to beat on home soil.

''They have home-court advantage and we'll be playing on a fast surface, which suits both of their singles players (Andy Roddick and James Blake),'' he told Reuters.

''I rate our chances 40-60 in favour of the US but you never know. There are so many variables that could have a bearing on the final outcome.'' Davydenko, the highest-ranked player in this year's final, agrees Russia face an uphill task.

BEST MOMENT ''It's pretty tough because we play in America where we know we have less chance of victory,'' he said. ''If we win, it will definitely be the best moment of the year for me.'' The United States, winners of a record 31 Davis Cup titles, are desperate to taste success for the first time in 12 years.

''This has been such a big goal for us as a team,'' inspirational captain Patrick McEnroe said. ''Yes, there is pressure but, at the same time, pressure is a privilege.'' World number six Roddick, whose straight-sets victory over Jonas Bjorkman set up a 4-1 victory for the US over Sweden in their Davis Cup semi-final, is in upbeat mood.

''We're feeling confident but getting that confidence to translate to the court and getting a win is a tall task, especially when we lost to them last year,'' the big-serving American said.

''But I like our team. We have been dreaming for a while of having a home final and I think we're all just really excited about the opportunity. And we have the best doubles team in the world in our corner.'' The dominant Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, have lost just once in 13 doubles Davis Cup matches.

Blake, like Roddick, believes the Memorial Coliseum surface will give the US a massive boost.

''We love playing on indoor hard,'' the world number 13 said.

''We've had some of our best results there.

''I think for Andy and myself it's a great situation. We're feeling really good and we know we're going to have a raucous crowd on our side. And I think the Bryans could play on Pluto and still be the favourites.'' The US have not won the Davis Cup since 1995 when Pete Sampras led the team to victory over Russia on clay in Moscow.

Reuters SSC KP1002

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