ROUEN, FRANCE: France completed a whitewash of Israel at the Kindarena in Rouen and duly raised hopes that a change in captaincy just might bring about a change in fortunes and deliver them that elusive 10th Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title this year.
Of course, beating the honest but unfancied Israelis so convincingly is no guarantee that their luck will change – since winning the title in Australia in 2001 they have narrowly lost two subsequent finals, both under Guy Forget. But a change at the helm, no matter what the sport, always seems to bring about renewed hope and the French Davis Cup team is no different.
Argentina away in the quarterfinals on 5-7 April will sorely test their credentials. It should be remembered that for that tie they should have the exciting Gael Monfils, their best clay court player, back in action; after his knee injury last year he chose to sit this one out. While clay is France’s “weakest link”, in the words of Julien Benneteau, it’s not exactly the preferred surface of either of Juan Martin Del Potro or David Nalbandian.
“It’s going to be difficult there away – 15,000 people, unbelievable atmosphere, on a clay court, it’s their best surface and for us it’s a little bit our weakest link,” said Benneteau. “If we want to win the Davis Cup this year we need to win a tough match away and for us it’s going to be the next one, in Argentina. It’s difficult, but we can make it.”
France’s strength in depth is well known but rarely in recent years have they batted this deep, to use a cricketing analogy. If the Davis Cup was contested by teams of six rather than four – as some would like - they would be a match for Spain. Their top five singles players, even without Monfils, are currently ranked at No. 8 (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), No. 10 (Richard Gasquet), No. 14 (Gilles Simon), No. 25 (Jeremy Chardy) and No. 38 (Julien Benneteau) compared to Spain’s No. 4 (David Ferrer), No. 5 (Rafael Nadal), No. 11 (Nicolas Almagro) No. 24 (Fernando Verdasco) and No. 34 (Marcel Granollers).
Sitting on the sidelines here they had Chardy, who has just recently reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, in Australia, while Simon, who reached the fourth round in Melbourne, having defeated Monfils, is there to be called upon when needed by the new captain Arnaud Clement.
As well as that, they have Richard Gasquet back in the top 10 and Michael Llodra, at 32, proving he could still do a job in singles as well as doubles with a delightful display of serve-and-volley in beating Noam Okun 63 76 in the first of the dead rubbers. In the two sets, he served 15 aces.
Before a near-capacity crowd who had just two dead rubbers to watch - my goodness, they love their Davis Cup the French - the rout was completed by Gasquet. As dead rubbers go, this was quite an intriguing one: it’s not often one gets the opportunity to see two players with one-handed backhands in opposition.
Amir Weintraub, the Israeli No. 2 who is ranked No. 199 in the world, had given the French No. 1 Tsonga a bit of scare in the opening rubber – not that Tsonga would admit to it – with his venomous backhand and when he reeled off four in the first two games against Gasquet, it seemed the French No. 2 might be in for a bit of a fright also – not to mention a taste of his own medicine. It wasn’t long, though, before Gasquet made his class count, going on to win 64 63, but it was fun while it lasted.
View the statistics from the matches here: Live scores