LA ROCHE SUR YON, FRANCE: It had looked the likeliest outcome from the moment Bernard Tomic pulled out of this tie, and France duly celebrated a 3-0 victory over Australia with Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga giving the French an unassailable lead by winning the doubles 57 76(4) 62 75.
Their win came just minutes after Germany had sealed victory over Spain, which means France will host Germany in April’s quarterfinals.
France’s captain Arnaud Clément had originally nominated Gaël Monfils and Julien Benneteau to play doubles, but few expected him to pick that pair against the unbeaten Australian team of Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione.
Tsonga and Julien Benneteau seemed a likelier option, but with Gasquet and Tsonga having played together before, and both fresh from straight sets wins in Friday’s singles, they were given the job.
And after three games, it seemed an inspired choice. The French led 3-0 with a double break, but you don’t judge a tennis match after three games, and after six it was all square. After 12 the Aussies had the first set after breaking Gasquet to love to take it 7-5.
A big part of the credit goes to the ‘Fanatics’, the group of about 100 yellow-shirted Australian fans who travel the globe supporting Australian tennis and other sports. They were making a lot more noise than the 3900 French fans, and the feisty Hewitt and his calmer partner Guccione fed off the support.
When they broke Tsonga twice in the second set and at one stage led 5-2, the tie looked set to go into a live third day, but then came the turnaround. Gasquet became his team’s cheerleader, going for his shots, pumping up his partner, and asking for the help of the crowd who started to believe in their team.
When an ace from Tsonga sealed the tiebreak for the French, the tide had turned. After the match, Tsonga said, ‘We came back to win the second set and then Richard did the rest!’
The ‘bleus’, as the French are known, broke in the second game of the third set, and with Tsonga feeling more comfortable on his serve and Gasquet swashbuckling away with his flashing backhand, life became harder for ‘Rusty’ and ‘Gucc’.
The early phase of the match when the French couldn’t hold serve became a distant memory. The French broke again in the eighth game of the set to take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set produced the best tennis and the best atmosphere. The blues and the green and gold-clad fans were getting their money’s worth, and making their own contribution to the spectacle.
Every point was followed by a chant, a dance, or a cheer. It was a carnival atmosphere, and Gasquet chose the moment to display his most potent weapon. If there were any doubts about the quality of the Gasquet backhand, the 27-year-old from Beziers unleashed four consecutive backhand winners at 3-3, leaving the Aussie team chasing shadows and earning a standing ovation from the entire stadium.
And then at 6-5 on the Hewitt serve, yet another Gasquet backhand sealed victory for the French and a place in the quarterfinals.
‘We are not going to have a party,’ said Gasquet, ‘but we are very happy and we want to go far in the draw, we feel as if we have a good chance.’
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Captain Patrick Rafter (AUS) - 01/02/14
Chris Guccione/Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 01/02/14
Captain Arnaud Clement (FRA) - 01/02/2014
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) and Richard Gasquet (FRA) - 01/02/2014