STUTTGART, GERMANY: The German Davis Cup team can be forgiven for thinking they are jinxed against the French. In the last four ties they have not won a single live rubber, so imagine the delight when Florian Mayer served for the match against Richard Gasquet leading by two sets to love and 5-4 in the third. Yet at the end of the day the French are 2-0 up, seemingly with a stranglehold over their neighbours from across the Rhine.
Mayer blamed the tension of Davis Cup for the cramp that afflicted him in both thighs as he neared a historic victory over the gifted world No. 11. After playing varied, unorthodox and aggressive tennis for nearly three sets, he suddenly found himself unable to move with anything like the freedom he normally takes for granted.
Gasquet, who had seemed fazed by Mayer's mixture of slicing, serve-and-volley, drop shots and angles, realised that a steady baseline rhythm was all that was necessary, and after 3 hours 42 minutes ran out a 46 46 75 63 63 winner.
Then in the second rubber, Gael Monfils was just too strong and consistent for Philipp Kohlschreiber, the world No. 7 winning a three-hour match 76(3) 76(5) 64 to almost guarantee France a place in September's World Group semifinals. The Germans could yet win the doubles, but it's hard to see the French losing both of the final day's singles.
French captain Guy Forget had warned against France's impressive record over Germany being taken too literally. He said the French had won recent ties as a result of a number of victories in close matches, and so it has proved again.
Gasquet's win was only the second of his career from two-sets down, and this was only his fifth victory in a five-set match (as against 11 defeats). And had Monfils been made to pay for the six set points he missed in the second set against Kohlschreiber, the end-of-day score could have been very different.
But ultimately Mayer was left to rue the French strength-in-depth. The world No. 20 knew Germany's chances of a shock win this weekend were heavily dependent on him beating Gasquet, hence the mounting pressure as he neared victory in the third set.
He had twice reeled off four games on the run to bounce back from dropped serves early in the first and second sets, and had given Gasquet absolutely no rhythm. The pressure then struck to bite the German in the thighs.
“I felt it at 4-4 for the first time,” Mayer said. “I've never had cramps in my life, and I'd drunk enough, both before and after the match, so it must have been the tension. I could barely move in the fourth and fifth sets. It's a very bitter defeat because I was the better player for three sets but couldn't finish it.”
Kohlschreiber and Monfils played out a classic clay court match from the back of the court, and for much of the contest there was little to choose between the players ranked No. 7 and No. 42 in the world.
But Monfils always had his big serve, so was winning his service games more comfortably. Crucially, he fired down four big first serves when Kohlschreiber had four break points at 4-4 in the second set, and once he had won the tiebreak, the mountain was too high for Kohlschreiber to climb.
“I think I was a bit more aggressive,” Monfils said, “and that was the key. He was serving well, and also returning well, so I had to make it a physical match, a little more aggressive in the big points, and not missing.”
Germany's doubles players, Christopher Kas and Philipp Petzschner, are both in good form, but France's Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be playing without pressure. It could be that Germany's wait for a live rubber victory over France, that already dates from 1953, will go on.
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Gael Monfils (FRA) - 08/07/2011
Richard Gasquet (FRA) - 08/07/2011
Florian Mayer (GER) - 08/07/2011