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PARIS, April 13, 2008 (AFP)
USA joined Russia, Argentina and Spain in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup on Sunday after Andy Roddick beat France's Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 for a 3-1 winning lead.
Holders USA thanked their world number six Roddick for their semi-final berth after victory over Mathieu at Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1hr 37min.
Mathieu had his serve broken five times and did not even manage to get a break point, such was the quality of Roddick's serve on the fast surface.
On Friday, Roddick had beaten Michael Llodra 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/5) and James Blake beat Mathieu 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 after saving two match points.
France reduced the deficit on Saturday thanks to the surprising victory of Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra against twins Bob and Mike Bryan 6-7 (7/9), 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, who had lost only once in 15 Davis Cup matches till then.
France were handicapped in their first two singles when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to pull out with a knee injury and Richard Gasquet was out of form with a blister on his hand.
The question since Saturday's doubles win had been whether or not captain Guy Forget would substitute Gasquet for Mathieu. Forget elected to stay with Mathieu against Roddick but he was no match for the determined American.
Roddick said after his win: "I told everyone I had a hunch that I was going to play Gasquet last night and this morning," said Roddick. "And then, you know, we saw the first warm-up session which is normally when you find out and Mathieu was out there hitting. There was no sign of Richard."
Asked if it would have made a difference, Roddick added: "I don't think it would have matter the way I played today. No."
Mathieu said afterwards: "Guy called me last night and asked if I was ready to play," said Mathieu. "I told him that I was feeling a little bit tired after the match of Friday but you always think, you know, you have a chance."
In the September 19 to 21 semi-final, the USA will travel to Spain who beat Germany 4-1 in Bremen.
Spain had already gone through thanks to victories by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer in Friday's singles and by Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in Saturday's doubles.
Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez had said before the USA's victory: "We'd like to take on USA again, partly because we'll be at home for that one. We gave it everything we had against them last year and it didn't quite come off.
We'll be eager to have another go at them."
The Russians and Argentinians just managed to avoid having to play a fifth and final, decisive rubber against the Czechs and Swedes.
In Moscow, Nikolay Davydenko was fielded by captain Shamil Tarpischev, who had rested him on Friday, and he won 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 1-2 thanks to the retirement of Tomas Berdych, who injured a leg in the fifth set.
The Czech number one Berdych had not had a great weekend, having also led by two sets against Marat Safin in Friday's singles' tie before losing.
Berdych said afterwards: "I have a problem with my ankle, I don't know what it is yet, but I can tell you that it is really painful. I will head back to the Czech Republic to get it looked at further."
It will be all the more painful for Berdych as the Czech dominated the match for long periods, as he looked to send his side into a fifth and decisive rubber.
"It's not the way I would have wanted to win," said Davydenko. "I just hope he will be ok. If his ankle's not too bad then maybe he might be back in a couple of weeks, but if he's broken something, then obviously it will be a lot longer."
It was the second consecutive round that Russia had been handed victory thanks to a retirement, after Novak Djokovic had to retire due to illness in the first round.
That was also against Davydenko and also handed Russia a winning 3-1 lead.
"It's something to do with the court here, it's difficult to put your finger on it, but it seems every time I play here, I'm getting some outside help," said Davydenko.
Argentina's David Nalbandian won the fourth rubber against Robin Soderling, a specialist of fast surfaces 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-4, 9-7 but not before having to struggle back from two sets to one down.
Argentina, the only major nation never to have won the silver salad bowl trophy, will meet Russia in Buenos Aires on September 19 to 21 in a rematch of the 2006 final won by the Russians.
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