Tennis: It's war when Argentina face Aussies

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's David Nalbandian today predicted a comfortable Davis Cup tennis semifinal victory over Australia while Lleyton Hewitt faced further criticism over his decision to hire two bodyguards.

The Australian, who is unpopular in Argentina after a string of angry confrontations with local players, has hired the guards to protect him during the September 22-24 clash on the clay courts of the Parque Roca arena on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

While Hewitt sought to cool the controversy at a team news conference, world No 4 Nalbandian predicted a home team victory.

"I'm not his friend, nor is anyone else, but that doesn't worry me," said Nalbandian, who forecast Argentina would repeat their quarterfinal victory in Australia last year.

"The victory in Australia was very important, not just for me but for the whole team. We won in Australia and we're going to win here.".

The Argentina team, who also include Jose Acasuso, Agustin Calleri and Juan Ignacio Chela, are favorite to win and Hewitt conceded that Australia faced a tough challenge.

"We're the underdogs, there's no doubt about that," he said.

Hewitt was once voted one of the world's most unpopular sportsmen in a newspaper poll in Argentina but local school children invited to watch the players practice clapped and cheered as he hit balls into the stands.

He said he had been warned by other Davis Cup players about the reception by Argentine crowds, but added that since arriving "the people in the hotel and around the courts have been fantastic so right now it's business as usual".

The Argentine team brushed off Hewitt's security concerns and his demand to be accompanied by two minders.

"I feel very safe here. You'll have to ask Hewitt why he talks about security," said Calleri, adding that both he and Acasuso were capable of beating Hewitt on clay.

"The issue of Hewitt's safety doesn't bother us, nothing that he's said about it is of any concern to the team," added team captain Alberto Mancini.

The winners of the clash will meet either the United States or Russia in the final in December.

The Australian team is completed by Mark Philippoussis, and doubles specialists Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley.

Philippoussis, back in the squad for the first time in more than two years, said he was confident.

"I've had enough of talking, we've come here to play. The important thing is to represent my country."

- REUTERS

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