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French Hero Boetsch Calls Victory Magic

December 2, 1996

MALMO, Sweden (AP) _ Beating the Americans five years ago was very special for the French. Defeating host Sweden in two nerve-sapping, five-set marathons Sunday was magical.

``It’s just unbelievable! It was my dream to win as a player,″ French hero Arnaud Boetsch said after he outlasted Swedish reserve Nicklas Kulti in a 4-hour, 47-minute thriller 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 10-8 in the decisive fifth and final match Sunday.

``Five years ago I was on the team, but I didn’t play. I was supporting my friends and trying to do my best for them,″ he said. ``This time I was playing and I was on the court. It was a big honor for me to be there.

``To win this match like that after facing three match points ...it’s like a dream for me. It’s magic.”

Yannick Noah, the former French star and captain of both championship teams in the 1990s, agreed.

“I never thought the last day would go that far really, with so much emotions, great tennis, unbelievable atmosphere and the last match going to the fifth set.

``Here it was another dimension, and I just feel very priviliged that I was there to experience the guys doing that for the team. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to see it once, but to experience what happened today was amazing. It’s hard to put it into words.″

Boetsch faced triple match point when trailing 0-40 and 6-7 in the fifth set, but saved them all as Kulti was struggling with severe cramps in his thigh toward the end of the match.

``I was just trying to serve better,″ Boetsch said. ``I hit a few good first serves and maybe he was tight. I was just focusing on my game, trying to win every point, and I did it.″

Between changeovers, Swedish captain Carl-Axel Hageskog was working on Kulti’s legs. But it didn’t help.

Kulti dropped his serve to fall behind 9-8, and then Boetsch went up 40-0, triple match point, on his own serve. Kulti fought off the two first, but then hit a forehand long that clinched France’s eighth Davis Cup victory.

In the 1991 final, France beat the United States 3-1 in Lyon, France. The last match was not played.

France won six straight Davis Cup titles between 1927 and 1932 during the great era of the renowned ``Four Musketeers.″

Sunday’s final two matches _ they both went to five sets and together lasted more than nine hours _ was one of the most dramatic last days in Davis Cup finals history. Never before had the last two matches each gone to extended fifth sets with the victory still in doubt.

It proved how great the team competition that Dwight F. Davis of St. Louis started in 1902 can be.

World No. 1 Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, both of whom declined to play Davis Cup for the United States this year, and Boris Becker of Germany have suggested that the team competition should be played every second year because of scheduling conflicts.

Noah doesn’t agree.

``What I love about the Davis Cup is that it’s not about contracts, it’s not about schedule, it’s not about business,″ Noah said. ``It’s about the team. It’s a different thing within the tennis world.

``And, yes, it takes a certain character to win matches, especially in the Grand Slams. But what it takes for the Davis Cup is that you have to give up a lot of things for others, for the team. You have to sacrifice a lot of things.

``If they don’t play, that’s too bad,″ he said of the top players. ``We’ll just keep winning. If they don’t want to play for five years, that would be wonderful.

``To win the Davis Cup, you have to give up four weeks of the schedule. If it’s too much for certain people, it’s too bad. That’s the way it has been and that’s why the Davis Cup is so great. This is what it takes to win, to give up four weeks.

``And look at the doubles. This is the only time when you see doubles being such a big deal. People enjoy the doubles. Doubles is very important. Just for that reason, I think it’s worth it.″

Kulti substituted for Stefan Edberg, who twisted his right ankle early in the first match Friday, which he lost to Cedric Pioline, the top French player.

It proved to be the last match in Edberg’s brilliant career that saw him win 41 titles, including six Grand Slam tournament singles (two each at Wimbledon, the U.S and Australian Opens) and four Davis Cup triumphs in seven final appearances.

He tested his ankle twice in practice, the last time Sunday morning, ``but I wasn’t 100 percent fit,″ said Edberg, who received several gifts during a post-match ceremony, including the highest award from the Swedish Tennis Association.

``It was not good enough today. It’s nothing you can do about it,″ Edberg said. ``The important thing was to win this match.

``It was a wonderful day for tennis, and I was lucky to be here today, because this was one of the most exciting Davis Cup matches I’ve ever been to.″

Thomas Enqvist set up the Boetsch-Kulti decider when he rallied from two sets down and then 2-5 in the decisive set to beat Pioline 3-6, 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4, 9-7. The first meeting between the two players lasted 4 hours, 26 minutes.

``I think it was the longest match in my career and one of the most important and most emotional I’ve ever played,″ said Enqvist, who won back-to-back ATP Tour titles in Paris and Stockholm in the past month.

Pioline received a warning by the chair umpire in the final game when he knocked a linesman’s chair over after his lob was called out.

``Well, it was a very tough and emotional match,″ Enqvist said. ``It’s very easy to get angry and upset. I think there were a couple of bad shots here and there. When you play 4 1/2 hours, of course, you get a little bit upset. I don’t blame him.″

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