LA ROCHE SUR YON, FRANCE: ‘The French are favourites to win this tie,’ said Australian captain Patrick Rafter at the draw ceremony for the 15th clash of France and Australia in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. But the former US Open champion could have a joker in his pack, as he puts faith in 18-year-old Nick Kyrgios, who opens the tie against Richard Gasquet.
With Australia’s young generation having a promising Australian Open, Rafter has picked a team of youth and experience. Kyrgios is accompanied by 17-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis, but the vastly experienced 32-year-old Lleyton Hewitt is due to play on all three days, accompanying big-serving left-hander Chris Guccione in the doubles.
The Davis Cup rivalry between France and Australia is almost a century old. The first time the two met was back in 1922 in Boston. Since then, the two nations have met 13 times with the Aussies leading by a commanding 10-4. However, in recent years it has been closer, and the last meeting saw the French triumph in the modern-day home of Australian tennis – Nicolas Escudé won the decisive fifth rubber in the 2001 final, played on a makeshift grass court in Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
For this first round World Group tie, the French have brought the Aussies to Mouilleron-le-Captif, on the west coast of France. The draw took place at the regional headquarter of the Vendée council. The guest of honour was Thomas Voeckler, the French cyclist who has worn the yellow jersey on the Tour de France on several occasions.
Rafter’s statement may involve taking the pressure off his team, but on paper the French are vastly stronger. With Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau and Gael Monfils, the hosts have four players in the top 40. France’s captain Arnaud Clément even has the luxury of counting on Gilles Simon, ranked 20th in the world, to be a hitting partner. ‘My team is full of experience and loves playing for its country,’ Clément said, ‘which allows me as captain to come in to this tie with the necessary confidence.’
The same cannot be said about Rafter who is leading a team with no players in the top 40. The highest ranked is Lleyton Hewitt at 41. However with a record of only 13 losses in 53 Davis Cup singles, ‘Rusty’, as his teammates call him, will be as competitive as ever. ‘At my age, Davis Cup is by far at the top of my priority list,’ says Hewitt.
If Hewitt is able to upset Tsonga in Friday’s second singles, it could turn into an exciting tie that could go to the wire. Hewitt and Guccione are undefeated as doubles partners in 11 ties, and the doubles looks to be Australia’s best chance of a point. And if play were live on Sunday, anything could happen, as pressure is added to the cocktail of youth and experience.
Logic dictates that the French should win, possibly even by 3-0 on Saturday night. But logic doesn’t always hold firm when players compete for their country in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Richard Gasquet (FRA) v Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
R2: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)
R3: Julien Benneteau / Gael Monfils (FRA) v Chris Guccione / Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)
R4: Richard Gasquet (FRA) v Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)
R5: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 30/01/2014
Captain Pat Rafter (AUS) - 30/01/2014
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) - 30/01/2014
Captain Arnaud Clement (FRA) - 30/01/2014