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Americans advance to Davis Cup semifinals

| Monday, April 12, 2004

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Andy Roddick's final serve set a record, and a celebratory final forehand sent his racket into the stands.

Finishing with a flourish, Roddick beat Jonas Bjorkman in straight sets Sunday to clinch a U.S. victory over Sweden in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.

Roddick came from behind to take a grueling first set, then wore down a weary Bjorkman to win 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-0, giving the Americans an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

The Americans will host a semifinal Sept. 24-26 against Belarus, which swept Argentina in Minsk.

"It's a chance to take this dream one step further," Roddick said. The Americans are aiming for their first title since 1995.

Roddick saved his biggest shot for match point, when he hit a 152-mph serve, breaking the record of 150 he set in a Davis Cup match in February.

"I knew I had it in my arm," he said. "I thought I'd take a crack at it that last game."

Bjorkman somehow managed to get his return in play.

"It wasn't too hard -- you just have to put the racket there," the Swede said with a smile.

When the rally ended with a Bjorkman backhand into the net, the U.S. celebration began. Roddick flung his racket to the fans, climbed into the stands in search of his teammates and discovered they were on the court. He joined them there and led the victory lap, whooping and wagging his tongue along the way.

It was the second Sunday celebration in a row for Roddick, who won his first Key Biscayne title a week ago. And it was an impressive U.S. victory over a Swedish team that upset defending champion Australia in the first round.

The Americans took a 2-1 lead, thanks to a doubles victory Saturday by Bob and Mike Bryan, leaving the match on the racket of their best player. The sunbaked hard court was home turf for Roddick, who grew up in nearby Boca Raton, and he started strong, with an ace followed by three consecutive service winners.

Drums, horns and chants provided the soundtrack, and Roddick repeatedly played to the lively partisan crowd. He broke in the next game for a 2-0 lead, then waved an index finger to the fans.

"The crowd was just amazing," Roddick said. "Sometimes, after a point, you could yell whatever you wanted, and no one would hear you because the crowd would drown it out."

Bjorkman rallied and was up a break at 4-3, before Roddick rallied. In the tiebreaker he chased down four volleys by Bjorkman during one exchange, finally hitting a forehand winner for a 2-1 lead that put him ahead to stay.

After a one-hour opening set, the rest seemed easy for Roddick, who lost only 10 points in the final set.

"That last set was one of the best sets I've ever played, for sure," Roddick said. "My instincts took over. It was amazing. It was like whatever shot I tried was working."

Not everything went Roddick's way. He ran into a linesman behind the baseline chasing a shot, lost the point and gave the official an earful. In the tiebreaker he hit a 148-mph serve, and Bjorkman still managed to win the point.

But in humid, 85-degree weather, Roddick was too strong for the 32-year-old Bjorkman, who played 10 sets in three days. Roddick dominated with his serve, as usual, but also committed only 11 unforced errors and moved well.

"Andy played some great tennis," Bjorkman said. "He's got a lot of confidence right now."

Roddick swept his six sets against the Swedes and improved to 4-0 when in a position to clinch a Davis Cup victory for the Americans. They're 36-0 since 1987 when taking a lead into Sunday.

The other Davis Cup semifinal will be between Spain and France.

France 3, Switzerland 2 -- At Lausanne, Escude got past Kratochvil 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (6), in the deciding match.

France led the best-of-five series 2-1 heading into yesterday, but Federer tied it for the hosts with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4, win over Clement.

Spain 4, Netherlands 1 -- At Palma de Mallorca, Ferrero clinched a semifinal berth for Spain by coming back to beat Martin Verkerk 6-4, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, in a rematch of the 2003 French Open final.

Later, Moya defeated Sjeng Schalken, 6-3, 6-4.

Verkerk just seemed to run out of gas late. He played singles Friday, and was part of the Dutch doubles team that completed a five-set victory in a match that started Saturday, was suspended by rain, and finished yesterday.

In the last set against Ferrero, Verkerk stopped chasing every shot and his serve speed dropped.

Belarus 5, Argentina 0 -- At Minsk, Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov each won his second singles match of the weekend. Mirnyi beat Lucas Arnold, 6-1, 6-2, for his ninth straight Davis Cup singles victory, while Voltchkov defeated rookie Juan Monaco, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Mirnyi and Voltchkov also teamed to win Saturday's doubles match.

Argentina, a semifinalist the past two years, was missing its top two players: Guillermo Coria and David Nalbandian, both injured.

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