Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
They're at home...they're on grass...and they boast two of the world's top seven players. So is it not a foregone conclusion that the Aussies will grasp their 28th Davis Cup this weekend?
I hate to break it to ya France...but your squad has no chance!
The powerful Australians, led by recently-crowned world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, and the French will go toe-to-toe in this week's Davis Cup final in Melbourne, but to the average tennis fan, it's pretty obvious who's going to win Down Under (and it's not going to be the "New Musketeers").
The Aussies will host the final, on one of their favorite surfaces, while the French will find very little support, playing on their worst surface -- grass.
The reigning U.S. Open champion Hewitt is joined by two-time U.S. Open titlist Patrick Rafter to give the hosts a formidable singles combo, while one half of the famed "Woodies," Todd Woodbridge, will spearhead an Aussie doubles team that will likely include huge-serving southpaw Wayne Arthurs.
Big underdog France will likely counter with world No. 6 Sebastien Grosjean and world No. 17 Arnaud Clement in singles, while the doubles tandem is shaping up to be Fabrice Santoro and Nicolas Escude.
Patrick Rafter has already said that he will step away from the game for at least six months at the end of this season.
The Aussies and their French counterparts decided the Davis Cup champ just two years ago in Nice, where Hewitt played on a 3-2 victor, despite going winless in his two singles rubbers. An injured Rafter missed the 1999 final with his well-publicized ailing right shoulder. As far as this week is concerned, wouldn't Hewitt love to add another Davis Cup to his recently-earned Masters Cup, and wouldn't the semi-retiring Rafter love to ride off into the sunset with a Davis Cup title to his credit?
You'd have to ask them.
Rafter has already said that he will step away from the game for at least six months at the end of this season, so he might very well be playing his last tennis match this week.
The Aussies love waving their flag in Davis Cup, as evidenced by their 27 titles -- second only to the United States' 31 championships.
Since 1999, Hewitt is an almost unstoppable 12-2 in Cup singles play. Yes, he did lose to Juan Carlos Ferrero in Barcelona last year to give Spain its first-ever Davis Cup, but he's gone 6-0 since then, guiding Australia to its third Cup final in as many years.
Somehow I don't think he'll be denied on his home turf.
Rafter, on the other hand, needs to win this Cup. He was unable to perform in Nice in '99 and has always said that winning the Davis Cup would be one of his greatest achievements in tennis.
France certainly has a nice team this year, but it'll be out of its element in Melbourne -- and when I say out of its element, I mean in a hostile environment, on an unfamiliar surface, up against a superior club.
Grosjean has played some unbelievable tennis in recent weeks, capturing the Tennis Masters Series Paris in his native land to propel himself into the Tennis Masters Cup event in Sydney, where he surprised all by reaching the final, only to lose to Hewitt for the second time in seven days. Hewitt also stopped the Frenchman in the round-robin portion of the prestigious tourney.
But Clement, on the other hand, virtually vanished from sight after reaching the Australian Open final, in Melbourne, back in January. As a matter of fact, the Aussie Open marked Clement's lone final in 2001. He only advanced to two quarterfinals and one semifinal following the strong showing at the Australian Open, which concluded with a straight-set flogging at the hands of American superstar Andre Agassi.
So with Clement in an apparent tailspin, don't be surprised to see Santoro or Escude playing some singles this week.
The French are no slouch when it comes to Davis Cup, having won tennis' ultimate team prize eight times, with the most-recent title coming in 1996. They are playing for the Cup for the third time in six years.
France stunned the mighty Americans in the 1991 Davis Cup final...so anything's possible. Their victory over the U.S. 10 years ago gave the French their first Cup since they captured six straight from 1927-32.
The Aussies have only claimed one Davis Cup title over the last 14 years, but a victory this week would give them a second one in three years and would help soften the blow of losing to the Spaniards a year ago.
I can't think of any reason why Australia won't sweep France this week. But hey, you still have to line 'em up and play. After all, wasn't it France which stunned Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final (although the French footballers did have home-field advantage in that one).
This French contingent, however, does not have Zinedine Zidane at its disposal.
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