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U.S., Martin Wilt vs. Aussies


For a guy who didn't even want to play, Todd Martin did pretty well.

And for a guy who lost the decisive game in the United States' Davis Cup quarterfinal against Australia, Martin has a right to be proud.

Amid speculation that the United States was looking for an excuse to play Pete Sampras something he could do only if someone else was injured Martin tried to pull out of Sunday's singles match against Patrick Rafter, claiming heat exhaustion.

But when a neutral doctor refused to send Martin to sick bay, he simply went out and took Rafter to the edge of defeat before the Australian won 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. The victory clinched the Davis Cup quarterfinal for the Aussies and set up a semifinal match against Russia.

"It's obvious (now) that I was fit to play, but I also felt like I was putting myself at a fair bit of risk," Martin said. "I didn't know that I was really fit to play the whole match until near the end."

In a gutsy performance, Martin won the first four games en route to a two set lead before Rafter came back to force a fifth set. Martin broke Rafter twice in the fifth to go up 3-0 and 4-2, but lost six of the last seven games.

"All my life I have been taught that pride is a sin. So I am not necessarily proud," Martin said. "I am pleased that I had the courage to go out and play and play well. But I am very disappointed that I lost."

Martin said he was feeling fine Saturday night and again Sunday morning. But after just 30 minutes of practice about two hours before the match, he didn't think he could play again in the 100-plus degree heat.

"I felt exactly the way I felt when I walked off the court against Lleyton (Hewitt)," he said of Friday's singles match, when he wilted after playing for nearly three hours and lost the final set 6-0.

"When I walked in the locker room, I didn't have my bearings. ... Unfortunately, I was sitting right in front of a mirror and saw how I looked. I didn't like that and I didn't like the way I felt."

Martin talked to the U.S. team doctors, who agreed that he didn't look right. The predicament posed two problems:

First, with all of the speculation that the United States would try to get Sampras back on the court, everyone was already skeptical about a potential Martin injury. And Davis Cup rules insist that a neutral doctor must sign off on any injury substitutions.

Second, when captain Tom Gullikson sent for him, Sampras was nowhere to be found.

"I was starting to get a little panicked, because I knew Pete wasn't here yet," Martin said. "And we only had about a half an hour until Tom had to put in a lineup for the day. Gully called Pete and had him race over here to try to get us as prepared as possible to play."

When Gullikson asked Sampras to warm up, "He said, 'You're joking!', I said, 'No, Pete. I'm dead serious.'"

Sampras joine the team late and said he would play only doubles out of respect for those who had played all along. But the Australians doubted all along the United States wouldn't leave him on the sidelines for such a crucial match.

Even after Thursday's draw supposedly set the pairings, Australian captain John Newcombe said he expected Sampras to be playing in reverse singles. And Gullikson signaled a change was coming when he said Saturday night, without consulting his player, that Martin wasn't feeling 100 percent.

Martin was upset at the implication that he wasn't good enough to beat Rafter. So when he turned up sick on Sunday, he wanted to assure his opponents that there was no trickery involved.

"I was waiting outside the Australian locker room to try to talk to Newc and tell him it is just simply my word that I didn't feel like I could compete," he said. But he never got to see Newcombe.

In the meantime, referee Stefan Fransson summoned Dr. Rich Paul, a member at the Longwood Cricket Club. His verdict: Martin would have to play.

"I think that he wasn't feeling well. I think that's an honest point," Fransson said. "To take that to a situation where he's unfit to play is different."

With the match less than 30 minutes away, Martin took intravenous fluids and went out to the court. Even though he won the first two sets, he said he was so concerned about his health that he couldn't concentrate.

"I was more distracted and probably that helped. I just went out and reacted to the ball," he said. "I sort of came in and out and I was focused for moments and distracted for moments."

But, just as he did in Friday's singles, Martin couldn't keep it going for the full match. Rafter commended his opponent's effort.

"You are not going to find a better sportsman than Todd and I have a lot of respect for Todd. I never once saw Todd trying to pull something over on me," Rafter said.

"I saw him on the court and he didn't look great. He looked very pale in the very beginning but as the match got along he became more and more into it. Then I knew I was in trouble."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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