France and Belgium announced their nominations for the Davis Cup final Tuesday morning.
And, for different reasons, there weren’t many surprises.
In fact, they’re the same lineups both squads used in their victorious semifinal ties in September.
For the visiting Belgium squad, which doesn’t have the depth its nearest neighbour does, it’s a matter of all hands on deck and hoping everyone is healthy enough to play.
In the case of undisputed No. 1 David Goffin, it’s “hope that knee holds up through the ATP Tour Finals this week”.
For the French, the attrition of the 2017 season has left captain Yannick Noah with fewer options than he may have had under ideal circumstances. But … he’s bringing six players to Lille, and he’ll decide on the final lineup closer to the tie.
Since this final may well represent France’s final shot at the elusive silver chalice for awhile, as a great generation is limping towards its golden years, Noah also hopes the bodies hold up.
The most secure pick for Noah is the doubles team of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who also are the No. 6 seeds at the ATP Tour Finals this week and and came back from the brink to upset No. 3 seeds Jean-Julien Roger and Horia Tecau in their round-robin opener on Sunday.
Unlike most doubles picks, the two also are good singles players as well.
Time for Pouille to shine
For the singles, Noah finds himself with a Gaël Monfils whose season is done because of injury. And he also has a Gilles Simon whose ranking is in freefall. Since Lyon, a small tuneup event just before the French Open in May, Simon has won back-to-back matches just once, in Shanghai last month.
(As it happens, the second of those wins was against Goffin, and on a hard court at that).
Noah has gone with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who defeated both Dusan Lajovic and Laslo Djere in the semis against Serbia. The other pick is Lucas Pouille, who lost to Lajovic. That tie, in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, was on red clay.
After a poor summer in North America, Tsonga played very well indoors until an unexpected early loss to countryman Julien Benneteau in Paris.
As for Pouille, he’s had an up-and-down season with some very good weeks and some head-scratching early losses.
Both players, however, remain in the top 20. And Pouille played Goffin three times in 2016, and won all three matches. Tsonga is 4-2 against Goffin.
The alternates for France are Benneteau and Richard Gasquet, which is a fine bench and given Benneteau’s amazing run in Paris just a week ago, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him on the final roster.
The French, denied so many times despite having one of the deepest rosters over the last decade, are looking for their first Davis Cup title since 2001.
They won that one over Australia, beating Belgium in the semifinals.
All on Goffin’s shoulders
For Belgian captain Johan Van Herck, it all goes through Goffin, who must reverse the trend against both French opponents and win both his singles rubbers.
His second singles player, Steve Darcis, pulled off a nice win against Australia’s Jordan Thompson to seal Belgium’s semifinal win.
Darcis has never faced Pouille.
His only match against Tsonga came back in 2002, when both were teenagers on the Futures circuit. And it ended in an early injury retirement by Darcis.
And when Darcis takes the court, he won’t have played a match since the home Antwerp event in mid-October.
The other two Belgian players, Ruben Bemelmans and Arthur de Greef, would be the underdog doubles pairing.
Alternate Joris De Loore is ranked No. 279 in singles and No. 344 in doubles and had surgery in mid-September, injuring his knee the week before the semifinal against Australia. He and Bemelmans pulled off impressive doubles wins against both Germany and Brazil and if he appears healthy, de Loore may well substitute for de Greef.
A surprise finalist in 2015, Belgium has never won the Cup.