The French Davis Cup team were hoping for two things at the start of this semifinal weekend against Argentina. The first was to make the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, something they have not achieved since 2002; the second was the hope, if they won, that they would play at home.
France, the third most successful nation in the Davis Cup competition, has reached the final with a resounding 3-0 win over Argentina, the best nation never to have won this treasured competition. Celebrations on the court included the team, the captain, and the players who came to Lyon to support their side: Jo Wilfried Tsonga; Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet. Bouncing up and down with the flag never far from them, it was clear that this was a defining moment for this committed side. Monfils even did a headstand or two in delight.
France’s Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra delighted their captain, their team and their fans all over France when they sealed the victory with a 64 75 63 win over Argentina’s Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos in two hours 29 minutes.
Llodra shines for France
In the first set, the Zeballos serve was constantly threatened. The French broke the Argentine in the sixth game and then in the tenth game for the set. The set ended when Llodra struck a perfect backhand down the line to Zeballos, the left hander of the duo, who scooped up the low return but sent it over the baseline.
As in the first, Llodra started the set and a game later the French had broken Schwank. Llodra played a backhand cross court volley that was angled so acutely that it was impossible for either of the Argentines to get a racquet to it. The ball darted away and at that very second Llodra left into the air as if a tightly coiled spring under his feet had been released. But Schwank and Zeballos continued to fight, breaking the French pair right back.
The set went with serve even though the French were threatening, especially on Schwank’s serve. In the 12th game, as the visitors were trying to stay in the set, the local heroes struck again and on break point three, Clement hit a backhand cross court winner that gave France the second set.
The crowd was buzzing with the noise levels up in a happy, musical way and the French players were feeding off it. Llodra was glorious with his serving and returns; Clement gave equally stylish support. They broke Schwank’s serve in the sixth game and that was all they needed. Three games later and France was in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final.
The nation now waits to see who will win in Belgrade. If it is the Serbs, down 1-2, France will travel to Serbia but if Czech Republic wins, they will travel to France for their second final in a row. Needless to say, the French side are rooting for the Czechs so that they can complete their 2010 season with a fourth consecutive home tie.
French captain Guy Forget, who won the Davis Cup in 1991 with Henri Leconte under then captain Yannick Noah in this very stadium, showed delight and emotion when a video of France’s victory including his win in the 4th rubber over American Pete Sampras was shown to the crowd.
Forget summed up his feelings by saying, “I am very excited and I am very, very happy because the crowd was unbelievable and, because like I said yesterday, Yannick could come back, and Henri, and it is still the same story. The emotions are here, the spirit is here, the quality of the players is unbelievable. I am so proud to lead a team like this one. They have gone through a lot of things together… They struggled a bit last year but to see them on the court celebrating emotionally is very strong.”
Lyon supporters lift their team
Clement, who kissed his partner in victory, had great praise for the Lyon crowd. “This place is unbelievable. Everybody loves tennis and loves the French team. The support we have on the tennis court is just amazing. It was magic with Michael. It was like we played yesterday. It is very easy to find Michael on the court and we know each other very well. That’s all I can say.”
“The experience was very important, very important,” continued Clement. “It was 2-0, Gael and Micka played unbelievable yesterday in singles but it wasn’t over so it was very important to win this doubles. We were a little bit favoured so it was important to finish today.”
Llodra, also the hero of France’s quarterfinal win over defending champions Spain, could not contain his pride at his team’s victory, “France is so good at the moment. We can play with many players; it’s absolutely amazing today. The atmosphere is just amazing and today I am very happy because we tried to play our game and today went very well.”
For Argentina, it was a hope lost but their captain was very proud of his team’s efforts. “Obviously we are very disappointed because we wanted so much to make a dream of playing the finals in Argentina which was dependent on beating France,” said Tito Vasquez. “We knew it was a difficult task to come here; we respect them like they respect us. Things didn’t go our way but that’s what happens in sport.
"On the first day, we could have been two-up but we were two-down and that makes it difficult. These guys are short on experience in Davis Cup. They started Davis Cup with me only four or five months ago and they played three matches like this with a lot of tension and, in that sense, I think it is quite excellent for their careers even though we have lost.”
So France awaits the outcome in Belgrade while Argentina is already looking ahead to next year and the possibility again of reaching a Davis Cup Final.