Swedes revel in whitewash of Americans

 

Captain Carl-Axel Hageskog heaped praise on his closely-knit Swedish team after their historic triumph over the United States in the Davis Cup Final this weekend and said the future of tennis in the country was as bright as it had ever been. "I'm proud of my whole team, the way they have acted and the fantastic job they have done," he said after the home side completed a humiliating, 5-0 victory over the United States in Gothenburg.

"I said at the beginning of the week that we faced five really tough matches. I never dreamed we would win all of them.

"It is true we had some luck on our side. It was a pity for the American team that Pete Sampras was injured. But it is a wonderful feeling to have won the trophy, especially after being beaten so closely by France last year.

Hageskog, who took over as Swedish captain at the start of 1995, said he was sure the victory would inspire the thousands of young Swedes who had watched the final in Gothenburg or on television.

"We are a small country but tennis is very popular. The kids want to play tennis. Swedish tennis is well-organised and the clubs do a great job. I think a lot of youngsters who watched this final will be thinking to themselves, `One day I shall be a Jonas Bjorkman, a Stefan Edberg, a Magnus Larsson or a Thomas Enqvist'."

Although the trophy was already safely won after Saturday's doubles, the Swedish players did not let up yesterday.

The new national hero, Bjorkman, who has shot up to fourth from 69th in the singles rankings after a magnificent season which brought him victories in Auckland, Indianapolis and Stockholm, a finalists' berth at the French Indoor Open and a semi-final place at the US Open, completed a ruthless straight-sets victory over Jonathan Stark.

Stark, who came into the American team as a late replacement for the injured Alex O'Brien, had no answer to the changes of speed of Bjorkman's sizzling groundstrokes, and the 25-year-old Swedish number one, who had beaten Michael Chang in four sets on Friday and who had then joined forces with Nicklas Kulti in Saturday's doubles win over Stark and Todd Martin, raced to a 61, 6-1 win in just 47 minutes.

Magnus Larsson, who won his first singles on Friday when world number one Pete Sampras was forced to withdraw with a calf muscle injury, then added a new dimension to Chang's nightmare run by inflicting a 7-6 (7/4), 6-7 (6/8), 6-4 win on the world number-three. It was Chang's seventh loss in eight matches, but he could not be accused of not trying. He hit 14 aces, won 83 percent of points off first serves and ran down countless drop shots which in other circumstances might well have been left for winners.

And it looked as though he might yet turn the two-hour, 22-minute match around when he took the second-set tie-break.

But the big Swede calmly continued to go for winners and, cheered on by the excited home supporters, broke Chang's service for the only time in the match to go 3-1 clear in the final set.

From there he cruised home to victory.

For the Americans, the defeat was one of the worst-ever.

The last time the United States were beaten 5-0 in a final was in 1973 and that was against Neale Fraser's legendary Australian team of John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Mal Anderson.

American captain Tom Gullikson, who paid a warm tribute to the Swedish players, also praised the crowd for their generosity and fair play at the medals ceremony.