ROUEN, FRANCE: It goes without saying that Arnaud Clement could not have wished for a better start to his new career as captain of the French Davis Cup team. Of course, nothing beats playing, but he was obviously thrilled with this emphatic victory over Israel at the Kindarena in Rouen, courtesy of an unassailable 3-0 lead after two days for the loss of just one set.
One can pay French tennis no greater compliment than to say that the transition from Guy Forget after 13 years in charge to Clement has been seamless. As something of a doubles specialist himself, he must have particularly enjoyed the near-perfect doubles play produced by Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau in beating Jonathan Erlich and Dudi Sela 76(3) 61 60 in just one hour 46 minutes, during which the French pair didn’t drop serve once.
Of course, the absence of Andy Ram, one of Israel’s two doubles specialists, with a hip injury made the job that much easier, but the French pair could do no more than beat what was placed in front of them and that they did handsomely and with a smile on their face – professional tennis isn’t always this much fun. It may not have been the ideal match in which to judge them as a pair, but one senses they will be a particularly hard one to beat in the competition this year.
The alacrity with which they won, taking 14 of the last 15 games, made one think they had a plane to catch – they probably did. As a result, France was the first of the eight nations to book their place in the quarterfinals.
“It was a very nice tie for us, three very good matches, and even if there was a big difference with the rankings [compared to the Israelis] the guys did a good job,” said the 35-year-old Clement. Asked if a part of him would like to have been out on the court playing, he answered: “No, for me it’s over, it’s past. I enjoyed a lot to see the guys [Llodra and Benneteau] take pleasure on the court and fight for their country. It was a nice moment for a captain.”
The Israelis stayed right there with the Frenchmen through the first set until the tiebreak – and then the two pairs went their different ways. “It was close until then,” said Clement, “and then we played unbelievably – aggressively, the perfect way on this court – and they played the rest of the match the same way.”
Probably only once in the entire time were the French pair in a spot of difficulty and that was in the sixth game of the first set when the Israelis forced their only break points of the match, on the Llodra serve, which Clement’s one time doubles partner extricated himself from with a perfectly placed serve to get back to deuce.
Erlich had dug himself out of a hole in the fifth game of the first set when he staved off three break points on his serve, but when he found himself in the same predicament in the fourth game of the second set it proved beyond him, and the end of the Israelis’ resistance in this match and the tie.
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Julien Benneteau/Michael Llodra (FRA) - 02/02/13