Davis Cup: Safin, Youzhny to play singles, Davydenko dropped

Thursday, September 21st 2006, 12:20 pm
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ In a matchup worthy of a Grand Slam final, Andy Roddick will lead off against Marat Safin in the opening singles of the Davis Cup semifinal between the United States and Russia.

In a surprise move, Russia captain Shamil Tarpishchev left Nikolay Davydenko _ at No. 5 the highest-ranked player on either team _ out of the lineup for the best-of-five series beginning Friday on clay at Moscow's Olympic indoor stadium.

Tarpishchev instead picked Safin, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former top-ranked player who has dropped to No. 72 after a series of injuries.

``It's the Davis Cup and the difference in 10-20 places makes no difference,'' Tarpishchev said. ``We have a very even lineup in our team and in terms of tactics it's the best solution for us.''

Mikhail Youzhny will play James Blake in Friday's second singles.

``We know that the Russians _ and it's part of the strength of their team _ have four (strong) players,'' U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe said. ``The bottom line is to win three points whatever way we can.''

Davydenko reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open two weeks ago, but withdrew from the quarterfinals of the China Open last week because of dizziness and apparently hasn't recovered completely.

``Mikhail is more confident and sees better than me. The first day is important for us and we must show a good result,'' Davydenko said.

Safin won the U.S Open in 2000 and Australian Open in 2005, while Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003 and was runner-up to Roger Federer in this year's final. Both are big men with huge serves.

Roddick and Safin have played five times, with the American winning the last three in 2004 _ but all of those have been on hard courts. They have not met on clay.

The Youzhny-Blake match will be the first meeting between the two. Youzhny reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open, losing to Roddick, while Blake made the quarterfinals.

On Saturday, the top-ranked doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan will play Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov. Youzhny and Leos Friedl of the Czech Republic upset the Bryan twins in the third round of the U.S. Open.

``The fact that Youzhny is going to play the second match and maybe play the doubles the next day, maybe it's a slight advantage,'' McEnroe said. ``But obviously, the guy is extremely fit, though I'm not sure he will play doubles.''

The teams expressed concern earlier in the week that the clay court was playing too slow, but Blake noted improvements Thursday.

``Taking into account that it was put down a week ago, it's in great shape,'' Blake said.

Youzhny said he wasn't fazed.

``It makes no difference to me _ on a hard court or a clay court. It's an advantage to play at home,'' he said.

Sunday's reverse singles should see a rematch between Youzhny and Roddick, with Safin taking on Blake.

The last time the two teams played in Moscow, Pete Sampras won all three of his matches in 1995 to help the United States capture its 31st Davis Cup title.

Russia, which has never beaten the United States, is unbeaten at home since losing that final and beat France in 2002 for its only title. The winner will face either Australia or Argentina in the final.

``We don't really care who's the favorite,'' McEnroe said. ``This is Davis Cup, and whether it's a home court, whether it's the surface or rankings or the players _ we don't really care.''