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France Rallies Past Italy, Reaches Davis Cup Final

September 23, 1996

France surged into the Davis Cup final when Cedric Pioline and Arnaud Boetsch won singles matches Sunday, rallying the French to a 3-2 victory over Italy at Nantes, France.

The French will face Sweden in the final at the end of November, with the Swedes having the choice of venue.

One day after Austria's Thomas Muster created chaos in the Davis Cup by walking off the court because of rowdy Brazilian fans and defaulting, the French produced a startling comeback.

The Italians seemed assured of making the final after Renzo Furlan and Andrea Gaudenzi won opening singles against Pioline and Boetsch. But the French, with Guy Forget and Guillaume Raoux teaming to beat Gaudenzi and Diego Nargiso, won Saturday's doubles.

Pioline made it 2-2 with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Furlan on Sunday. Then Boetsch swept Gaudenzi, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (10-8), to complete the victory.

In the other semifinal in Prague, Thomas Enqvist came from behind in a five-setter with the Czech Republic's Daniel Vacek to steer Sweden into its ninth Davis Cup final in 14 years.

He took control from 5-5 in the fourth set to win, 6-3, 6-7 (7-3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, and give his country an unbeatable 3-1 lead. Stefan Edberg's final match against Petr Korda was reduced to a best of three, and the Swede won, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Now Edberg hopes to get a place in the Swedish lineup for the final.

"The final will be a very emotional match and it is great we will play at home," said Edberg, who plans to retire at the end of the year. "I hope I will be able to take part. It would be nice and right to finish my career at home."

*

With typhoon rains leaking through the stadium roof and interrupting play, Monica Seles defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-1, 6-4, to win the Nichirei Ladies title at Tokyo.

There were a half dozen stoppages while workers dried the courts at Ariake Tennis Park, but it did not stop Seles from winning her third Nichirei title in four tries since 1990. . . . Slovakia's Henrietta Nagyova defeated Barbara Paulus of Austria, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, in the final of the $165,000 WTA Warsaw Cup at Poland.

Auto Racing

Jeff Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion, outdueled teammate and championship rival Terry Labonte to win the Hanes 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, his ninth victory of the season.

Gordon took the lead for good with 111 laps remaining on the .526-mile oval and kept his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet out front to the checkered flag, defeating Labonte by .49 seconds, about four car-lengths.

The victory, the 18th of the 25-year-old driver's career, boosted his lead over Labonte by five points, to 81, with five races remaining. It was the seventh runner-up finish for Labonte this season.

Jacques Villeneuve charged past teammate Damon Hill to win the Portuguese Grand Prix, all but ending Hill's chance to clinch his first Formula One world championship at Estoril, Portugal.

The contest for the driver's title now moves to the final race of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct. 13, though Hill remains the clear favorite.

Villeneuve must win and Hill not score at all at Suzuka for the Canadian to take the championship.

Miscellany

Belmont Stakes champion Editor's Note rallied in the stretch to win the $750,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. The victory was the second in four tries for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the 1981 race with Island Whirl.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a fire Saturday night at Auburn's old wooden basketball arena, known as "The Barn," a school spokesman said.

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