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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 22:30 GMT
A fittingly thrilling finale
The Russian team lift the cup aloft
The Russians celebrate their first Davis Cup success

It was inconceivable that a Davis Cup final that had twisted and turned its way through two and a half days of high drama should end in banality.

But few, and not even the devoted Russian fans inside the Paris-Bercy stadium, would have predicted the astonishing events that unfolded.

After his epic five-set triumph which clinched Russia's first ever Davis Cup, Mikhail Youzhny received a hug from former president Boris Yeltsin.

Youzhny's popularity in his home country will have soared to such an extent that if a vote were to take place now, the 20-year-old might well become one of Yeltsin's successors.

It all began so ominously for Youzhny - stepping on to the court looking every bit as young as his 20 years before tamely dropping the first two sets.

Boris Yeltsin (right) is delighted by Russia's victory
Yeltsin (right) is delighted by Russia's victory
Perhaps he had read his profile in the official event guide which described him as having "no Davis Cup results to speak of" before stating that his one win was "inconsequential".

But the Davis Cup has a habit of throwing up unlikely heroes.

Last year it was France's Nicolas Escude who almost single-handedly beat Australia on grass to upset the odds.

This year, it looked as if Davis Cup debutant Paul-Henri Mathieu would take the plaudits.

The 20 year old played magnificently to lead 6-3 6-2 and such was his dominance, the cacophonous French fans broke into a celebratory rendition of La Marseillaise.

But Youzhny refused to surrender.

He clawed back the deficit by taking the third set and the Russian bench, previously subdued, sparked into life.

The tide turns

With Marat Safin playing chief cheerleader, even Russia's captain Shamil Tarpischev, who had remained stoically calm in preceding matches, leapt to his feet to argue a questionable line call.

It was all too much for poor Mathieu, and as the youngster wilted, so the partisan crowd began to lose heart and voice.

And when Youzhny levelled the match at two sets all, the chants of the Russian fans drowned out those of the French for the first time in three days.

Yeltsin, who did not leave his seat throughout over eight hours of play on Sunday, clasped his hands and waved them in gleeful appreciation.

And at the centre of it all, Youzhny rode the wave of euphoria - exhorting the crowd to lift their voices and celebrating every point won as if it were the last.

French captain Guy Forget (left) comforts Paul-Henri Mathieu
Mathieu was distraught after his defeat
When that point came it was difficult to tell who was happiest.

A shell-shocked Mathieu was momentarily hidden among a stampede of ecstatic Russians and as the crowd parted, the French team had already closed ranks around the 20 year old.

Those who recognise the extraordinary talent of Mathieu will hope he can recover from the heartbreak of seeing his chance of becoming his nation's latest sporting hero slip agonisingly by.

For Youzhny, all that is left is to wonder whether anything he achieves in a career which could span another 10 years can ever eclipse his efforts on Sunday.

Not that that was on his mind as he joined senior team-mates Safin and Kafelnikov in taking possession of the cavernous Davis Cup trophy - before filling it with champagne and kicking off what will be one long and raucous party.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Jonathan Overand
"Youzhny overcame his nerves and was inspired"

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