NANCY, FRANCE: France succeeded in making the improbable look easy as they recovered a 2-0 deficit in a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie for the first time in 18 years against Germany. They did so because of the quality of their players, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils looking every inch the top 10 players they used to be and will be again on this evidence.
In fact, so much in control of their matches were they that an air of anti-climax almost hung in the Palais Des Sports Jean Weille in Nancy once Monfils had despatched Peter Gowjowczyk 61 in the opening set of the fifth and final rubber - but the home fans weren’t complaining.
In winning this tie 3-2 Arnaud Clement’s team equalled the achievement of Yannick Noah’s France in 1996 when they came back from 2-0 down to beat Adriano Panatta’s Italy in a World Group semifinal in Nantes. It has secured them another home match in the semifinals against Czech Republic and the tantalising prospect, further on, of winning the Davis Cup for the first time in 13 years.
“I’m just so proud of my players,” said Clement, “because coming from 2-0 down on the first day was not easy. There was a fantastic reaction from them, starting with the doubles. Germany showed a lot of spirit and energy – it’s a real team - but I just knew that my players would give more than 100 per cent for the rest of the tie.”
Monfils was the man who secured the victory by ultimately beating Gojowczyk 61 76(0) 62, but there was no doubt that he had been handed the momentum by Tsonga.
Although Tsonga insisted he played just as well against Gojowczyk when losing in five sets on Friday, he did look imperious in seeing off the threat of Tobias Kamke 63 62 64 in just one hour and 42 minutes to square the tie.
The fact that perhaps they should have won this tie in two days rather than three mattered not a jot at the finish as the French players celebrated wildly with each other. For better or worse – and some of it was worse – this was very much a team success, the first-day losers Julien Benneteau and Tsonga both taking the opportunity to make amends in the doubles and reverse singles, respectively. Even the non-playing No.1 Richard Gasquet joined in the celebrations with the same gusto as those who had competed.
When players of the quality of Monfils and Tsonga are in the form and mental mood they were on Sunday they are an imposing proposition and of course make it that much harder – if not impossible - for players like Kamke and Gojowczyk to spring a surprise.
Indeed it made one wonder how on earth Benneteau and Tsonga had managed to lose to them. That is not to disrespect the Germans, who performed superbly, far better than anyone could have imagined, but it does remind one of the gulf that separates good players from great ones when the latter are on their mettle.
It is amazing to think that this tie was once regarded as a miss-match. Germany were without Philipp Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer and Tommy Haas for a variety of reasons, but it’s now debateable whether they were without their three best players after the performances of Kamke, Gojowczyk and Andre Begemann here: the pecking order may have to be reassessed. Carsten Arriens, their captain, concurred that perhaps this team should no longer be regarded as an under-strength one.
“I knew on Friday evening when we were 2-0 up that it was going to be difficult to win the whole tie,” said Arriens. “I think the French players – Tsonga and Monfils – had two days to think about what’s going to happen.
“They probably had a lot of talks with Arnaud Clement and they were prepared. Tsonga clearly decided for himself that he was not going to lose a second time and Monfils’ was just an incredible performance – he was on fire.”
While there was no doubt that the momentum was firmly with France going into the final rubber, there must have been tiny misgivings in their camp. Monfils is an enigmatic soul at the best of times. Three days earlier he had declared himself unfit to play but here he was looking as athletic as ever at the age of 27.
On the few occasions that Gojowczyk threatened, Monfils’ response was swift and sure. For 12 games in the second set the German matched him shot for shot only for Monfils to destroy him in the tiebreak which he won to love by hitting outrageous winners from all over the court.
Like Monfils, Tsonga was on his game from the word go, winning 12 of the first 13 points; Monfils later won 11 of the first 12. He was serving so well - 86 per cent of points won on first serve, 64 per cent on second serve – that Kamke was never given a chance to get into the match, however much he may have looked to attack. Tsonga also hit 45 winners.
“I didn’t even break him once in the whole match so I then had a lot of pressure on my own service games,” said Kamke. “Whenever he had a chance he was hitting the forehand very hard and, yeah, he was the better player today.”
Germany departs Nancy with their heads held high and some wonderful memories. As for France, if they are not careful, they will soon start thinking they’re invincible.
Captain Carsten Arriens (GER) - 06/04/14
Captain Arnaud Clement (FRA) - 06/04/14
Gael Monfils (FRA) - 06/04/14