CORDOBA, SPAIN: Guy Forget stubbornly insisted that his France team was “just as strong” without the injured Gael Monfils, but the truth is that they will open their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal against Spain in the Plaza de Toros de los Califas on Friday shorn of their two finest players. Without the powerful Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also on day one it’s akin to asking the legendary Cordoba bullfighter “Manolete” to bring down the bulls without either a cape or a sword.
In their absence, Gilles Simon assumes the mantle of No. 1 and plays David Ferrer, while Richard Gasquet, who steps up to the No. 2 position, will open the tie against Rafael Nadal. Knowing the French they will give it their all, but maintaining their excellent record in semifinals – they have won seven out of the last 10 – will be a tall order.
As for Spain, Albert Costa’s team is aiming to reach its sixth final of the new millennium. An incredible achievement should it happen. Either way, Forget is expecting some long hours toiling under the Andalucian sun – the temperature for the weekend is forecast to be 37-38 degrees and it will be a lot hotter than that down in the dusty bullring.
France could even blame the Spanish for Monfils’ absence since it was a tough five-setter against their former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero at the US Open that aggravated his knee injury. Not that they were blaming their hosts. “We’re not a weak team just because we’ve lost Gael,” said Forget. “This team is just as strong.”
Be that as it may, he will again be cursing his misfortune since he firmly believes that Tsonga’s absence in last year’s Davis Cup final against Serbia cost them dearly and now the loss of Monfils – their best player on clay – threatens to do the same.
Nadal has done extraordinarily well just to be here after the massive disappointment of yet another defeat to Novak Djokovic in the delayed US Open final on Monday and will privately have breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the French team selection. Tsonga has been named in the doubles alongside Michael Llodra to face Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez although there is every chance he will figure in the reverse singles.
He called his captain’s choice “logical” given his own poor form on clay this season, but the fact is he is one of the few players in the world with a good recent record against the best that Spain has to offer. He beat Nadal fairly convincingly – albeit on grass – at Queen’s and both Ferrer and Verdasco in straight sets at Wimbledon and the US Open, respectively. He even leads Lopez 3-0 in head-to-heads.
Nadal, who has already practised twice in Cordoba, described himself “as just fit enough” to play after his transatlantic dash from New York. He did, nevertheless, look a little weary, but it could have been just a weariness with press conferences. He dutifully accorded his opponent Gasquet the usual respect, recalling their battles in Monte Carlo in 2005 and Rome this year, but the fact is he has hasn’t lost to him since he was 16, when he retired against the Frenchman at a Challenger tournament in St Jean de Luz 10 meetings ago.
At least Simon has a recent win over Ferrer to his name, on the hard courts of Cincinnati just last month, and won the last tournament on clay in which he competed, at Hamburg in July. “I know exactly what he’s going to do,” said Simon. “He’s a real warrior on the court, but I know that I can win and I have to keep believing that every moment.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Rafael Nadal (ESP) v Richard Gasquet (FRA)
R2: David Ferrer (ESP) v Gilles Simon (FRA)
R3: Feliciano Lopez / Fernando Verdasco (ESP) v Michael Llodra / Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
R4: Rafael Nadal (ESP) v Gilles Simon (FRA)
R5: David Ferrer (ESP) v Richard Gasquet (FRA)
Live scores, live radio commentary and live streaming of this tie will be available on the Davis Cup website.
Rafael Nadal (ESP) - 15/09/2011
David Ferrer (ESP) - 15/09/2011
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) - 15/09/2011
Captain Albert Costa (ESP) - 15/09/2011
Richard Gasquet (FRA) - 15/09/2011
Gilles Simon (FRA) - 15/09/2011