After Jim Courier's disheartening five-set loss, Andre Agassi brightened the mood for the United States with a historic Davis Cup victory Saturday against Russia.
Agassi won his 16th straight Davis Cup singles match with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 rout of 18-year-old Russian Marat Safin, tying the American record for consecutive victories set by Bill Tilden from 1920-26."That's a great accomplishment," Agassi said after evening the best-of-5 tie after the first day. "I'm very proud of it. The Davis Cup has meant a lot to me and I've given a lot to it."
Earlier, Yevgeny Kafelnikov rallied from a set down in a must-win match for the Russians to beat Courier 6-2, 5-7, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 on a cold, blustery day that had many fans at Stone Mountain's International Tennis Center huddled under blankets.
Agassi needed only one hour, 35 minutes to finish off Safin, the world's 170th-ranked player and a Davis Cup rookie. The Russian had 50 unforced errors and seven double faults.
"It's not easy to step out there the first time in Davis Cup," said Agassi, who has a 25-4 career re-cord in the international competition. "You're talking about a guy who has not played much on the pro-fes-sional level, much less the international level. He made a lot of errors today. The way he played, he had no chance."
In the first singles, Courier missed a chance to give the Americans a commanding lead against the country they beat in a classic final three years ago in Moscow.
Kafelnikov won the 3-hour, 42-minute match when Courier fell apart in the fifth set. Down 5-4, the American served to a 40-love lead before double-faulting, hitting two shots into the net and losing the deciding point when his forehand clipped the top of the net and landed about a foot wide of the line.
"I just got lucky that game," said Kafelnikov, the world's sixth-ranked singles player. "Basically, Jim lost the match. I didn't win."
"That's a fair assessment," Courier said. "I made a bunch of errors that were unforced and unnecessary."
The U.S.-Russia tie began a day late after heavy rain Friday forced a postponement. That threw the schedule into turmoil, since the Russians are expected to use Kafelnikov and perhaps Safin in the doubles Sunday.
They don't have to announce their team until one hour before the 10 a.m. match against Americans Richey Reneberg and Todd Martin. If either of the singles players takes part in the doubles and the match goes at least 30 games - a strong possibility - the Russians could put off at least one of the reverse singles until Monday.
"If the doubles goes 30 games, they have intimated they will not play singles until Monday morning," said Alan Mills, referee for the International Tennis Federation. "It's a very complicated scenario."