CORDOBA, SPAIN: Not even Spain can dismiss France, the nine times Davis Cup by BNP Paribas champion, that easily! Any hopes Albert Costa and company had of properly avenging the whitewash they suffered at the hands of Guy Forget’s team in Clermont-Ferrand 14 months ago, but more importantly of wrapping up this semifinal inside two days, evaporated in a flurry of winners from the French doubles team of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra.
Their 61 62 60 victory was if anything even more one-sided than Spain’s successes in the two singles rubbers on the opening day. In fact, it was nothing short of a humiliation for the Spanish team of Fernando Verdasco and particularly Feliciano Lopez, who dropped serve five times. No wonder Tsonga said afterwards that it was “a matter of pride” that they beat the Spanish.
If Tsonga can replicate his stunning form here at the Plaza de Toros de los Califas in the opening reverse singles against Rafael Nadal on Sunday – assuming, that is, Forget introduces him for the first rubber rather than the second, which he surely must – then Les Bleus might yet pull off one of the most sensational comebacks in the history of Davis Cup. Tsonga hinted heavily to his captain at the press conference afterwards that he wanted to play that match. Forget would be a fool to disappoint him and he’s no fool.
Of course, beating Nadal on clay in his homeland would be a huge ask, but Tsonga would have the advantage of coming into the match much the fresher of the two; the US Open runner-up admitted to being “close to the end of my energy” after his match against Richard Gasquet on day one.
Naturally, Forget - whom Llodra said had made “a good speech” after the previous day’s debacle - preferred to put it in perspective. “We still have to beat the best player in the world on clay in the last six years at home,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. We still need a miracle.”
Forget had controversially omitted his world No. 10 from the opening day singles because of his poor form on clay this season, but he also he wanted to hold him in reserve for just such a moment as this and it may yet prove an inspired decision.
Tsonga, who failed to go beyond the third round at any of this season’s clay court events, played like a man who was born with the dust of Roland Garros in his mouth. Actually, he was born in Le Mans, which at least seems to fit his reputation for power and performance.
His record against Nadal isn’t overly impressive – he is 2-5 in head-to-heads – but few will ever forget the way he blew the world No. 2 away in straight sets at the Australian Open three years ago and, of course, he won their most recent meeting, at Queen’s this summer, albeit on grass.
Even if Tsonga does pull off an improbable victory few would bet against Ferrer beating Gasquet – or Llodra – in a decisive final rubber. If ever Gasquet needed to step up to the plate and just once fulfil the overwhelming expectations there have been of him since he was a youngster it would be then.
Tsonga is Llodra’s seventh partner in Davis Cup doubles which must be some kind of record and they have only played together a handful of times, but you would never have guessed at any lack of familiarity. This was their third win in harness in three Davis Cup rubbers.
Verdasco and Lopez – both left handers – on the other hand are an experienced pairing but never got it together. The Spaniards managed to win only 33 per cent of points on first serve in the first set and just 22 per cent in the third, but the quality of the returning may have had something to do with that.
France could afford to take liberties with their serve and Tsonga sealed the second set on the first of their three set points with a 185km/h second serve ace. In the fourth game of that set he had followed a 198km/h ace with the most subtle of drop shots and then promptly banged down another ace of identical power to win the game. When Lopez was broken for a fourth time in the opening game of the third set there was no way back, but there may yet be for France.
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Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) - 17/09/2011
Captain Albert Costa (ESP) - 17/09/11
Captain Guy Forget (FRA) - 17/09/2011