The semi-final line-up for the 2005 Davis Cup men's team tennis competition is now complete, after Slovakia, Argentina, Russia and Croatia advanced to the final four on Sunday.
The neutrals and the casual tennis fans might balk at a semi-final line-up that features three teams from central and eastern Europe, plus Argentina. But as a reflection of the growing power of the former Soviet sphere of influence, and of Argentina's dominance of the world rankings, it tells no lie.
Russia was champion two years ago, and as in the 2002 final against France, they had to come back from one-two down on the final day to beat the French. Their hero was Igor Andreev, who trounced a hopelessly unconfident Paul-Henri Mathieu to win the fifth match for the loss of just three games.
With Marat Safin injured, Nikolay
playing with an inflamed wrist, and Mikhail Youzhny still finding his way back after an injury, Andreev was the only fully fit Russian and he was understandably elated with his win.
"Well, I mean, it is like a dream. When I was a kid I was dreaming to play Davis Cup, especially this final match. You know, it's a lot for me and for us to be through to the semifinals, and I think we have a great team to fight to win the Davis Cup," he says.
In September's semi-finals, Russia travels to Croatia, a first-time semi-finalist along with Slovakia, which was the poorer of the two nations in both economic and tennis terms when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993 but has punched above its weight in Davis Cup.
The Slovaks will host Argentina, which has 10 players in the world's top 100, and five in the top 15, but only these past three days with an away win on grass against Australia, have the Argentinians begun to believe they can win the cup. They've been notoriously poor travelers to date, but this weekend could have changed all that.