David Nalbandian beat a struggling Marat Safin in straight sets on Friday to draw Argentina level with Russia at 1-1 in the Davis Cup final.
Nalbandian withstood a hail of aces from the powerful but erratic Safin to earn a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory on a synthetic indoor carpet at Moscow's Olympic Stadium where the visitors were backed by vociferous Argentine fans including soccer great Diego Maradona. That leveled the scores after Nikolay Davydenko had given Russia the lead by overcoming Juan Ignacio Chela for the first time. The third-ranked Davydenko, who had lost five previous matches against Chela, overcame shaky starts in his early service games and a third-set stumble to win 6-1, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
"The final, at home, how could I not be nervous?" Davydenko said. "I lost the third set because I made so many mistakes. In the fourth set, I made fewer and played well."
Dmitry Tursunov and Mikhail Youzhny continue Russia's attempt for a first title since 2002 against Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri in Saturday's doubles. The decisive reverse singles are scheduled for Sunday.
"I'm fresh for tomorrow," Nalbandian said. "When I thought about the match, I thought it would be tougher, so three sets ... it's great. The weekend's not over yet."
Nalbandian broke Safin when the Russian double-faulted after four aces and a flurry of deuces in the first game, an advantage enough to take the first set.
Safin survived two break points and fired an ace to open the second set, but ceded his next service game when he double-faulted at deuce and then netted a backhand. Nalbandian broke again at the next opportunity and, although Safin broke to close the gap to 5-3, the Argentine took the set.
The two traded service wins in the third set before Safin handed his opponent two break points and Nalbandian took a 4-3 lead when the Russian sent a shot long on the second point. Russia questioned the crucial call in one of many challenges using the Hawk-Eye video system, which is making its Davis Cup debut, but the review showed Safin's shot was clearly out. Nalbandian survived two break points in the next game before making it 5-3, then served out the match at love, capping it with another ace.
Safin had 21 aces and seven double faults.
Returning to the venue where he won the Kremlin Cup in October, Davydenko, a winner of five titles this season. overpowered Chela and controlled the first two sets.
The U.S. Open semifinalist broke Chela at the first opportunity and took the first set. He won the second after breaking Chela in the fifth game.
Watched by Russia's most famous tennis fan, former president Boris Yeltsin, Davydenko fell to 4-1 down in the third set when Chela broke him for the first time and then held serve. The Russian broke back and took it to 5-5 before Chela broke him again. Chela took the first fourth-set game at love, but Davydenko came back from 40-love in Chela's next service game for a 2-1 lead.