Croatia won its first Davis Cup title yesterday, with Mario Ancic beating Michal Mertinak of Slovakia, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 6-4, in the decisive fifth match in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Dominik Hrbaty had pulled Slovakia even at 2 by defeating an ailing Ivan Ljubicic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Ancic then downed Mertinak to clinch the best-of-five series between two first-time finalists.
"I felt everything was under my control," Ancic said. "It's an unforgettable match and an unforgettable day. This has been a spectacular year for me."
Croatia became the 12th champion in the competition's 105-year history. This was Croatia's biggest team success since the country became independent in 1991 during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. The soccer team's third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup had been considered Croatia's sports highlight.
"I am not sure people realize how big it is to be at the top of the pyramid," Ancic said.
Goran Ivanisevic, who came out of retirement for the final, added the Davis Cup championship to his 2001 Wimbledon title. He wasn't selected to play singles or doubles but was a member of the four-man squad.
* BASEBALL: Shortstop Rafael Furcal and the Los Angeles Dodgers have reached a preliminary agreement on a three-year, $39 million contract, his agent said.
Paul Kinzer said a physical was scheduled for his client today. Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch would only say no announcement was planned before baseball's winter meetings, which begin today in Dallas. A switch hitter, Furcal batted .284 for Atlanta last season with 12 homers, 58 RBI, 100 runs scored and 46 steals in 56 attempts. . . .
The Florida Marlins were close to a trade that would send catcher Paul Lo Duca to the New York Mets.
Florida would receive minor league pitcher Gaby Hernandez and a second minor leaguer, a pair of baseball officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been finalized.
* SOCCER: Christine Sinclair scored two goals and Portland beat UCLA, 4-0, in the NCAA women's soccer national championship game in College Station, Tex.
Angie Woznuk added a goal and two assists for the Pilots (24-0-2), who won their second title in four years. Portland beat Santa Clara, 2-1, in the 2002 championship game. . . .
Vanderlei Luxemburgo was fired as coach of Real Madrid, one of the world's most glamorous soccer teams but mired in fourth place in the Spanish league this season. . . .
U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna returned from an ankle injury and helped Manchester City defeat Charlton, 5-2, in the English Premier League. . . .
Defending champion Juventus beat Fiorentina, 2-1, on an 88th-minute goal by Mauro Camoranesi, winning for the 13th time in 14 games and increasing its Italian Serie A lead to eight points. . . .
Defending champion Barcelona beat Villarreal, 2-0, and stayed ahead of surprising Osasuna on goal difference in the Spanish league.
* OLYMPICS: International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge plans to investigate reports that China's child gymnasts and swimmers are being beaten by their coaches.
Rogge was responding to a BBC report in which four-time Olympic rowing gold medalist Matthew Pinsent visited a school in Beijing -- host of the 2008 Olympics -- and saw child athletes being beaten.
Rogge said he would contact the international gymnastics federation and the national Olympic committee for explanations.
* GOLF: Jim Furyk won the Nedbank Challenge in a four-way playoff, making a nine-foot birdie chip on the second extra hole in Sun City, South Africa. Furyk closed with a par-72 to finish regulation at 282 along with Adam Scott (73), defending champion Retief Goosen (72) and Darren Clarke (69). . . .
Colin Montgomerie won the Hong Kong Open by one stroke over South Africa's James Kingston, who squandered a one-shot lead with a double bogey on the final hole.
-- From News Services