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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Poised for Historic Davis Cup Victory

HAMBURG, Germany -- Russia took a stunning 2-0 lead Friday over defending champion Germany in a Davis Cup semifinal match, putting the Russians one victory away from the title round for the first time since joining the traditional tennis competition in 1962 as the Soviet Union.


Alexander Volkov upset the world's No. 2-ranked player, Michael Stich, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, after his teammate Yevgeny Kafelnikov spoiled Bernd Karbacher's Davis Cup debut with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory in the opening singles match.


A Russian victory in one of the two remaining singles matches or in the doubles match to be played Saturday and Sunday would clinch the best-of-5 series. Germany, three-time Davis Cup champion, last came back to win after a 2-0 deficit in 1960, against Czechoslovakia. The Germans have not lost at home since the 1985 final, a 3-2 loss to Sweden.


Meanwhile, the American team took an early lead in its semifinal match against Sweden in Gothenburg on Friday, setting up the possibility of a unique U.S.-Russia final in the sport's most prestigious team competetion. (See story, Page 13.)


A newly laid hard court replaced the usual clay surface at the Rothenbaum club and was put in to help Stich, Germany's top player who reached the final of the U.S. Open earlier this month on a similar surface.


But Volkov was not impressed.


"I knew Stich is a fighter, but in tennis everything is possible," said Volkov, 27, who is ranked 41st, when asked if he expected to beat the German.


After splitting the first two sets, Stich broke for a 6-5 lead in the third and was serving for the set when he hit a forehand into the net and allowed Volkov to force a tiebreak.


A double-fault by Stich gave Volkov two break points in the tiebreak. Stich saved the first but then hit a forehand wide and Russia was back in the lead. Volkov, a lefthander, broke Stich at love to start the fourth set and held on to win the match, hitting a volley winner on his third match point.


The organizers took a gamble with the weather by going outdoors and it paid off. The last summer weekend began under a blue sky and a mild temperature, but still the 10,000-seat center court was only about two-thirds full.


Earlier, Kafelnikov put Russia on course with his victory over Karbacher.


"It was very important for us to get a good start and I went into the match very concentrated," said Kafelnikov, 20, ranked 12th in the world after a rapid rise through the ranks this year. "I knew what I wanted to do and I did it."


After winning the first-set tiebreak 7-2, the Russian broke for 2-0 and rolled through the second set in just 24 minutes.


He lost the third almost as fast, but recovered with steady play, taking advantage of the German's unforced errors. He survived two break points in the final set, but after thundering an ace to take a decisive 4-2 lead, was never under pressure again.