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Both sides for Davis Cup Final draw on confidence

GOTEBORG, Sweden -- Tennis is not immune to the poor-mouthing that attendspre-event news conferences in sports. Thursday's Davis Cup Final draw ceremonyoffered the usual respectful assessment of opponents and humble predictionsby both the U.S. and Swedish teams, but the convention's veneer is thin.

Underneath the niceties, the Americans were characteristically boastfuland the Swedes were unusually confident about their chances to win the covetedDavis Cup in competition that begins today at the Scandinavium.

The Americans will send out No. — Pete Sampras and No. — Michael Changin singles and Sweden will counter with No. 4 Jonas Bjorkman and No. 25Magnus Larsson in the best-of-five set matches.

Today's matches pit Chang against Bjorkman, then Sampras against Larsson.Rankings are not often useful predictors of Davis Cup performance: Larssonhas beaten Sampras twice this season, and Chang lost to Bjorkman a weekago at the ATP Finals.

One doubles match will be played Saturday, and the reverse singles willbe Sunday. The first country to win three matches gets the trophy.

Every Davis Cup final since 1981 has featured either Sweden or the UnitedStates. Sweden, which has won seven Davis Cup titles, last won in 1994.The United States has won 31 titles, the last in 1995.

Despite the sub-freezing temperatures here and the usual difficulty inconvincing players to participate, this is not a hardship posting for theU.S. players.

They are warmly ensconced in hotel suites owned by an American chainand can get doses of CNN and MTV if withdrawal sets in.

Since athletic teams travel on their stomachs, the players' culinaryneeds have been well looked after.

The American team spent its holiday chowing down on the traditional Thanksgivingfare, thanks to the major effort by the chef the team brought from New YorkCity. According to U.S. Tennis Association officials, only pre-shipped ingredientssaved the cook a massive scrounging job.

Try finding cranberries and canned pumpkin here, one officialsaid.

The holiday's over.

Like Sampras, the tall, lumbering Larsson has a big serve, which willbe amplified on the fast indoor carpet. He also has a decidedly un-Swedishoutlook about facing the top player in the world.

I know I can beat him in tough matches, which I've done,said Larsson, who is 3-6 against Sampras. He knows he can lose tome if he doesn't play 100 percent. I have a chance. I came here to takeit.

Sampras may not be comfortable in Sweden's frigid early winter, but he'swell acquainted with the pressure that comes with big matches and DavisCup's unique atmosphere. This is Chang's first Davis Cup final since 1970.He's playing one of the fastest-improving players on the tour. Bjorkmanbegan the year ranked No. 64 and finished it by getting to the semifinalsof the U.S. Open, as did Chang. Chang has a 3-1 career record against Bjorkman.

Jonathan Stark and Todd Martin and are scheduled to play doubles Saturday.

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