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Czechs Are Mated Poorly : Davis Cup: Captain changes plans, pairing Korda and Srejber, who lose to Leach and Pugh. U.S. takes 2-1 lead.

April 01, 1990|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — The Petr Korda fever that swept through Prague Friday night struck Czechoslovakian Davis Cup Captain Frantisek Pala, who was suffering the next morning from illusions of grandeur.

Because Korda, the world's 26th-ranked player, played so brilliantly in a three-set victory over No. 5 Brad Gilbert of the United States, Pala believed he could put a doubles team on the court to challenge perhaps the world's finest pair, Rick Leach of Laguna Beach and Jim Pugh of Palos Verdes.

Pala's team was Korda and Milan Srejber, who prolonged their agony Saturday at the Prague Sports Hall in a second-round Davis Cup match for only 1 hour 43 minutes before losing. The score was as tedious as the match, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

"I had expected that the first- and second-best players in doubles in the world could play well," Pala said. "I expected that."

So why did he waste Korda and Srejber, who must play singles today? Korda will meet Aaron Krickstein in the first match, and Srejber will meet Gilbert in the second. The United States leads, 2-1, and needs only one victory to advance to the semifinals in September against Austria, which eliminated Italy Saturday.

Veteran Tomas Smid, who had expected to play Saturday with Karel Novacek and looked disappointed when he did not, told the Czech press Thursday that Pala had said he would sacrifice the doubles to rest his singles players for the final two matches.

"With the match tied, 1-1, you have to try everything to get the second point," Pala said of his change of heart.

Korda and Srejber have had Davis Cup success as a team, beating West Germany's Boris Becker and Eric Jelen in five sets last year and Switzerland's Heinz Gunthardt and Jakob Hlasek in four sets earlier this year.

But neither victory came after Srejber had played five sets less than 24 hours before, as he did in a loss to Krickstein Friday night. That match included three tie-breakers and lasted three hours fifty-seven minutes. Considering that Srejber complained afterward of neck and leg pains, he did not seem a logical choice for doubles.

That, no doubt, was obvious to Pala in the first game, when Srejber, a 6-foot-8 power player who overwhelmed Krickstein with his serve in the first set Friday night, was broken by Leach and Pugh.

Thus was established a pattern that continued throughout the match. The first time Srejber served in each set, the Czechs lost.

"Of course, I was tired," Srejber said. "On the other hand, my opponents returned serves very well. I have never, ever played against such good returners."

Once they broke Srejber early in each set, Leach and Pugh could coast. The only time the U.S. pair faltered was when Leach lost his serve in the second set.

It was quick work for Leach and Pugh, playing only their second Davis Cup match since replacing the long-time U.S. pair of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso earlier this year against Mexico at La Costa.

This was their first real test because they were playing away from home, where Davis Cup crowds are notoriously hostile to visitors. But Leach and Pugh were so dominant that the Czech crowd of about 14,000 never got into the match.

The fans could be heard only when derisively whistling at Srejber.

Now that newly democratic Czechoslovakia has free speech, Pala said he expects Smid to say, "I told you so."

"Tomas Smid is not one to be afraid to say what he wants to say," Pala said.

No doubt looking forward to appearing solo again, Korda was almost smug when asked what kind of match he expects against Krickstein, ranked seventh in the world.

"That's up to Aaron Krickstein, not me," he said.

Srejber, ranked 59th, understandably was less secure when asked whether he expects to be ready for Gilbert.

"We shall see," he said.

UPSET: Ivan Lendl, the world's top-ranked player, is defeated by No. 35 Jim Grabb in a $500,000 tournament at Chicago. C24

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