No changes in the top 10, as only Russians Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov were in action in an actual tournament.
Medvedev continued his furious run from the North American hard-court summer right into the fall, as he wins in St. Petersburg.
He doesn’t move up in the rankings, but he puts more separation between himself at No. 4, and Dominic Thiem at No. 5.
Thiem, who won St. Petersburg last year but chose Laver Cup instead, drops 160 points.
Novak Djokovic was idle, but reports have him back on the practice court, three weeks after his shoulder let him down at the US Open.
Nadal, Federer, Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas played Laver Cup. No. 8 Kei Nishikori is still injured and will miss the Asian swing.
And Roberto Bautista Agut, at No. 10, spent the week as a sub in Geneva.
ON THE UPSWING
Borna Coric (CRO): No. 15 ============> No. 14 (The Croat is back on a winning track by making the final in Russia).
Félix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 21 ============> No. 20 (Idle last week, the Canadian is back in the top 20 after Wawrinka drops 10 points below him. He’s the No. 2 seed in Chengdu this week, on a mission to win that first Tour title).
Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 38 ============> No. 36 (Ran into the buzzsaw Medvedev in the St. Petersburg quarters).
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA): No. 61 ============> No. 39 (Tsonga is on a mission. Challenger last week. Title in Metz this week. And another Challenger next week).
Aljaz Bedene (SLO): No. 76 ============> No. 64 (The Metz finalist makes a jump).
John Millman (AUS): No. 94 ============> No. 79 (Good ride on the Challenger circuit in Taipei, as he wins the title).
Grégoire Barrere (FRA): No. 98 ============> No. 89 (Another career high for the 25-year-old Frenchman, who reached the Metz quarterfinals).
Egor Gerasimov (BLR): No. 119 ============> No. 98 (Into the top 100 and a career high after qualifying and reaching the St. Petersburg semis. The 26-year-old has a special exempt into Chengdu this week).
Steven Diez (CAN): No. 172 ============> No. 160 (The Spanish-Canadian, 28, reaches a career high after making the semifinals at the Kaohsiung Challenger).
Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 200 ============> No. 167 (After a season of backsliding, the 31-year-old Canadian gets back in the winner’s circle with a title at the Columbus Challenger).
Danilo Petrovic (SRB): No. 259 ============> No. 194 (The 6-foot-8 Serb, down as low as No. 338 in May, won the Sibiu Challenger, and jumps into the top 200 for the first time at age 27).
J.J. Wolf (USA): No. 285 ============> No. 247 (A career high for the 20-year-old after making the Columbus final. He was the No. 1 U.S. college player last spring, out of Ohio State, before turning pro this summer).
ON THE DOWNSWING
Stan Wawrinka (SUI): No. 19 ============> No. 21 (Wawrinka bypassed Laver Cup in his little part of the world to play St. Petersburg (yes, it was about the money). But he ended up pulling out of that as he needed more down time after the US Open).
Gilles Simon (FRA): No. 37 ============> No. 49 (Last year’s Metz champ loses in the second round).
Ricardas Berankis (LTU): No. 63 ============> No. 70 (He gets Shapovalov in Chengdu, after a long trip from St. Petersburg).
Martin Klizan (SVK): No. 90 ============> No. 121 (Last year’s finalist – he defeated Wawrinka and Shapovalov – lost in the first round in St. Petersburg).
Matthias Bachinger (GER): No. 126 ============> No. 182 (Ouch. The 32-year-old German went from the qualies to the final in Metz a year ago. Last week, he lost in the qualifying).
Michael Mmoh (USA): No. 168 ============> No. 208 (Injuries have kicked the 21-year-old’s behind this season, and he falls out of the top 200. A year ago, he had just jumped into the top 100 and a career high).
Duckhee Lee (KOR): No. 216 ============> No. 252 (The 21-year-old from Korea, who is deaf, reached No. 110 back in April, 2017. While he broke through to win his first career ATP Tour match last month in Winston-Salem (sacrificing the US Open qualies to do it), he drops after not defending his semifinal effort in Kaohsiung).
WASHINGTON, D.C. – From the way he looked for much of this week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is on his way back.
Ranked No. 70 coming into the week, his two victories mean he will jump 10 spots in the rankings, to No. 60 on Monday.
It will be the Frenchman’s highest ranking in a year. And if he keeps it up, he’ll soon get to the point where he won’t need wild cards to get into the big tournaments.
But for now, as concerned the Masters 1000 in Montreal next week, the 34-year-old Frenchman had to hurry up – and wait.
Tsonga said after his win over No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov Tuesday (his first victory over a top-10 players since Oct. 2017) that he had discussed a wild card with the Rogers Cup organizers.
He certainly had the resumé to merit it. Not only did he win the tournament in 2014 (the biggest title of his career, with the 2008 Paris Masters tournament having a smaller draw), but he’s hugely popular in Montreal.
Part of that is the fact that he speaks the language. The other part is that he’s basically popular wherever he goes.
But Tsonga told Tennis.Life the tournament was holding back the final wild card for a “big player”.
We’ve heard that before. Often, it ends up not happening. And that was indeed the case, as it was announced Thursday evening that Tsonga would be given that final wild card.
The Frenchman was headed to Montreal Thursday night. If the wild card hadn’t come through, he told Tennis.Life he would play the qualifying.
Little qualifying data available
Tsonga hasn’t needed to play qualifying for many years. But the last injury, which required knee surgery, and his slow road back has meant he’s either used his special ranking, or received wild cards for the most part.
He played the qualifying in Miami in March. And although he won the first round against Lukas Rosol, he then lost to Pablo Cuevas.
So it’s probably a blessing that he didn’t have to go through it.
Tsonga’s last appearance in qualifying prior to Miami this year went all the way back to Queen’s Club … in 2007. He won three rounds there, and lost to Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. He took a wild card into the second week of Wimbledon a few weeks later.
Big-time against Schnur and Khachanov
Tsonga appeared to be moving like vintage Tsonga in his 6-4, 7-6 victory over Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur in the first round.
And he looked just as good against Khachanov in the second round. That was a match he was particularly pleased to have won.
Against Kyle Edmund Thursday, it was tight. But he wasn’t able to take advantage of his opportunities, with 18 aces and seven break points (he converted only one).
But he wasn’t unhappy with the match overall. Little by little, he’s getting there.
After missing seven months, Tsonga’s actual ranking was down to No. 262 last November (He has been using a protected ranking in the mid-30s to get into events.
But he worked and got it back to No. 102, after winning in Montpellier in February and reaching the semifinals last week in Marrakech.
Montpellier was Tsonga’s first title since 2017, when he won four in a very small geographical area: France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He’s made over $20 million in a career that began with his first Futures event at 16 (he got to the semifinals from the qualifying). Tsonga has never won a Grand Slam. but he made a Grand Slam final in 2008, losing the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic. It seemed, then, that he was going to be a regular presence.
It didn’t happen. But he did reach the semis at the 2013 French Open, and at Wimbledon in back to back years in 2011-12.
Hopefully the back issue won’t set him back for too long.
MELBOURNE, Australia – On an off day after his impressive first-round victory over American qualifier Mitchell Krueger, No. 1 Novak Djokovic hit the practice court.
His training partner was up-and-coming young Aussie Alexei Popyrin, a 19-year-old ranked No. 149 – near his career best.
It’s astonishing to think that Popyrin is just six months younger than countryman Alex de Minaur, and four months younger than Denis Shapovalov.
And yet, he’s more or less where he should be, while de Minaur and Shapovalov are highly precocious.
Second round rematch of 2008 final
Djokovic knows Tsonga well, having played him 22 times and boasting a 16-6 record against him.
The first time they met was in the 2008 Australian Open final – Djokovic’s first career Grand Slam title. So there’s some illustrious history.
But they haven’t even met since the 2016 US Open – nearly 2 1/2 years ago.
And a lot has changed since then.
“It feels like a lot has happened for both of us. He also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well. It’s good to see him back,” Djokovic said.
“He’s another great player, champion, someone that has been very successful in the past, established top-10 player, played Grand Slam final. Just very powerful, serve, forehand, big weapons. I know what to expect. I’ve played him many times. I lost to him, as well.”
One of the best doubles teams on the planet staved off elimination for France in the Davis Cup final Saturday.
And now, captain Yannick Noah must make the toughest decisions of his tenure, in the final tie of his tenure.
Who to play on Sunday, as France tries to defend its title against a Croatian team that boasts two singles players ranked in the top 12 in the world?
The notable depth the French boast is being sorely stretched in this final. As many players as they have, the cupboard even seems almost bare.
And Noah’s selections – which ultimately have come down to his personal preferences – will be second-guessed for the ages if France can’t pull off a comeback in this final “true” Davis Cup final.
Mahut-Herbert get the job done
Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert came within a point of winning the ATP Tour Finals in London a week ago.
And despite the quick transition to the red clay, and a few nervy moments, they kept their nation alive.
The duo defeated the occasional team of Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) to give France its first point.
France remains down 1-2 after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (against Marin Cilic) and Jérémy Chardy (against Borna Coric) failed to even earn a set on Friday. Actually, they failed to even convert a break point.
Saturday was a bucket-list moment for Mahut, 37 in January. He’s 4-0 in doubles this year after being left off the (then) four-man squad for the final a year ago against Belgium.
The French team was favored going in. And even with a hiccup on the third set, and the failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity at 4-5, 0-40 on Pavic’s serve in the fourth as the crowd began to get involved, they stood firm.
But on Sunday, there remains no margin for error.
Tsonga? Chardy? Pouille? Herbert?
Interviewed on court after the match, Noah said there might be changes. He was going to speak to the team doctor, he said, because Tsonga was “slightly injured” when he played on Friday.
Choosing the 33-year-old for this final, despite his 11-4 career Davis Cup record on clay, was a crapshoot from the get-go.
In last year’s final, Tsonga lost to David Goffin. In the 2016 quarterfinal against the Czech Republic, he lost in five sets to Lukas Rosol after leading two sets to one. But mostly, he was rusty and likely not in tip-top form. Even during the week, there was reporting that he was favoring an injury.
Tsonga hadn’t played a five-set match since beating Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov at the Australian Open in January. And since then, he had been off seven months and had knee surgery. Since his return, he is 1-4 on the ATP Tour.
As well, his last match on clay was during the Davis Cup semifinal against Serbia in Sept. 2017.
As for Chardy, he had a nice run though Indian Wells and Miami. And he had a terrific grass-court season. But other than the grass, he hadn’t gotten past the second round of any tournament since April. He was not coming in with any sort of form after being bounced in the first round in both Basel and Bercy.
Whether or not anyone else could have done better against top-shelf opposition, of course, is an unanswerable question.
Whither Gasquet, Monfils and Simon?
They are the top three French players in the ATP Tour rankings at the moment. Although all of these former top-10 players are outside the top 25.
Gasquet begged off early in the process with an injury.
Extrêmement déçu de devoir annoncer mon forfait pour la finale. À fond avec mes coéquipiers pour aller chercher une nouvelle victoire 🇫🇷🇫🇷💪💪 pic.twitter.com/1ffQcJ0V5p
What about the other two? Well, the best way to term it is probably “captain’s decision”.
Simon, who has been playing club tennis the last few weeks and surely is in shape, just doesn’t seem to be Noah’s kind of guy. That’s been clear from the moment Noah returned to the captaincy early in 2016.
And yet, Simon did play for him in that return tie in Guadeloupe. He also got the call for the first round in 2017 – in Japan. He’s gone to Argentina, and Great Britain, and Germany … and hasn’t played in a home tie since 2012.
Noah’s description of their failure to communicate is that they have “different ways of working.” Simon’s impressive head-to-head results against the top top Croats (albeit not on clay) didn’t score as many points on the selection tote board.
Monfils and Noah: complicated
From the moment Noah returned as captain and decreed that the team would play its first “home” tie all the way in the French territory of Guadeloupe, it was touch and go.
There was no question of Noah leaving Monfils off the squad. His father hails from the island, and he’s a pretty big deal there. So he played. It was the first and last time he played under Noah.
There’s the story of Monfils in Croatia for the 2016 semifinal. Noah was counting on him, but his knee was barking. There was some sort of … conversation and by Wednesday, Monfils was on a plane home rather than in Zadar to cheer on his teammates on the weekend.
Not reliable, Noah says
Previous captains Guy Forget and Arnaud Clément gave Monfils a lot of latitude, Salliot writes. Early morning practices? Forget about it. He wasn’t ready to play on the Friday in the 2014 quarterfinal against Germany. But he brought home the deciding point on Sunday. Noah was convinced he could “manage” Monfils, get him on the team plan, even though he’d been well-warned.
Monfils has rarely disappointed in Davis Cup. He brought home a point in the final both in 2010 in Serbia, and against Roger Federer in Lille in 2014.
And he’s really good on clay.
You’d think Noah would agree he could use him right now.
First up on Sunday is Cilic against Chardy.
On the bench is Lucas Pouille, who is a Noah favorite but who was left on the bench on Friday.
Pouille won both his singles matches against Italy, on clay, back in April. And he beat Robert Bautista Agut on a hard court, in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy, to give France a 2-0 lead in the semifinal against Spain in September.
He also happens to be ranked higher than Chardy, which is a luxury you have when you put a lower-ranked player in the lineup the first day.
Herbert raised his hand as available in singles. So did Mahut.
But there’s no point in saving Pouille for a fifth and deciding rubber, if you can’t get there. And you also would have the more explosive Tsonga (assuming he’s good to go) up against Coric in that one.
So it comes down to Pouille vs. Chardy against Cilic.
And if Cilic wins, Croatia wins the “final” Davis Cup.
The final weekend of Davis Cup, as we’ve come to know it over 118 years, begins Friday in Lille, France.
And it will be French No. 1 Jérémy Chardy against Croatian No. 2 Borna Coric to kick it off (8 a.m. EST).
They’ll be followed by Marin Cilic, ranked No. 7 in the world, against former world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second singles.
Tsonga is currently ranked No. 259 after missing seven months of the season due to knee surgery.
Few tennis nations have more depth than the French.
They have nine players ranked in the top 100 (Spain currently has 10, the U.S. 11).
But despite a relative embarrassment of riches, there is always drama in the selections.
And as their golden era of French players ages, there always seem to be injury issues that limit the options.
The other X-factor is that even though their home Grand Slam is played on red clay, there are few – if any – among the current crop of French players who can be considered highly accomplished on that surface.
So putting the final on clay is a crapshoot.
Gasquet, Monfils, Simon not chosen
No. 1 Chardy is currently the fifth-ranked player in his own country.
And he’s getting a bucket-list opportunity to become a national hero.
“The first is that Gilles has a way of working that’s fairly far from mine. We discussed it, before and after my selection,” he said. “The second is that I think Gilles is much better on a hard court than on clay. I looked at his statistics. He has very good statistics against the Croats, but poor ones in Davis Cup on clay. I put all that together and I made my choice.”
Great record vs. Croats for Simon
Simon is 6-1 against Cilic, although their only clay-court meeting came in 2007. Notably, he took him to five sets twice – winning in Australia in 2014 and losing in five at the US Open that year, which Cilic won. He is 2-0 against Coric.
His record on clay in Davis Cup isn’t great, although most of those matches came five or more years ago. More recently, he defeated Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets during France’s “home” tie in Guadeloupe in 2016.
The hard-court winning percentage is superior to his clay efforts. But not in a decidedly lopsided fashion. He has never played a match on indoor clay.
Noah also benched Lucas Pouille for Friday in favor of Tsonga. Pouille, who has been the highest-ranked French player the last few years, has fallen back after a difficult 2018.
Rusty Tsonga takes on Cilic
The second singles rubber Friday will tell the French most of what they need to know.
Tsonga has played just five matches since returning to action in September after a seven-month absence. He’s been competitive in all of them – they’ve all gone three sets – but he has won just one of them.
That was a victory in a third-set tiebreak over No. 65 Guido Pella of Argentina in Antwerp.
Tsonga’s last five-setter came at the Australian Open in January, where he prevailed over Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
His last match on clay came in Sept. 2017, in the Davis Cup semis against Serbia in the same stadium, on the same surface.
It’s a big ask – a crapshoot – to hope for a throwback miracle from Tsonga. But it’s Davis Cup.
French edge in doubles
The downside of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals – an making the final, losing a heartbreaker – is that Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won’t have had much time to adapt to the change of surface.
The positive side is that they’re match-tough and, despite that loss, confident.
They have won five of their six Davis Cup doubles rubbers together. Notably, that one defeat came at the hands of Croatia (Cilic and Ivan Dodig) on a hard court in Croatia during the 2016 semifinal tie.
Croatia doesn’t have the same sort of established doubles team, although they do have Mate Pavic, who is ranked No. 3 in the world and forms the second-ranked pair (behind Americans Jack Sock and Mike Bryan) with Oliver Marach of Austria.
They have Dodig, the 33-year-old former No. 4. And that pair did win a smaller ATP Tour event in Chengdu together in September. Pavic and Dodig won Hamburg together on clay in 2017. They could also substitute in Cilic, as they have done before – notably, as mentioned above, against the French.
There have been some issues with the indoor clay court laid down in 60 hours for this tie.
That’s a short turnaround, and clay courts needs time to settle and cure
To that end, the French Federation had players of various ages do a sort of a tennis marathon on the court overnight Wednesday to Thursday, according to RMC Sport.
They’ll do it again Thursday night.
Director of operations Sébastien Hette played down that service-line bump. “Nothing too nasty,” he told RMC. It’s something pretty classic for a clay court; it wasn’t even brought up at the captains’ meeting.”
MELBOURNE, Australia – The last 10 minutes of his second-round match against Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said, were the reason he fought so hard for the first three hours and 20 minutes.
Down 0-3 in the fifth set, down a break point that, if converted, would have put him down 0-4 and two breaks, the 32-year-old Frenchman hung on and never lost faith.
He came all the way back in a 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory that put him into the third round of the Australian Open.
There, Tsonga will meet Aussie Nick Kyrgios in a clash that has a fireworks alert already registered.
Shapovalov wasn’t just up 3-0. He also was up 5-2, and served for the match at 5-3 in the fifth set. He decided he was quickly going to turn the page and add it to the experience bank.
“As much as the loss hurts, you know, I don’t find it as a loss. I find it as an opportunity to learn. Yeah, I mean, I’m turning it into a positive. Hopefully next time I’m in this situation, I play things a little bit differently,” said Shapovalov, who defeated Tsonga in four sets in the second round of the US Open last September.
“I’m the type of guy when things don’t go my way, instead of sulking or getting mad, down on myself, I go back on the court and try to work twice as hard so next time when I’m in that position I can hit some good serves, you know, just close the match out,” he added.
Experience vs. youth
Shapovalov pointed to Tsonga’s experience as perhaps one factor. “I don’t have that much (experience), that could have been the difference. He picked up his game when he needed to,” he said.
Tsonga, older by 14 years, didn’t necessarily agree. “I think I just played well after that. What I didn’t do most of the match, I didn’t return that well. At the end I returned well. That’s it,” he said.
The veteran said that most of the time, you don’t think about how young the player across the net is. But in this case, Tsonga tried to use it to pump himself up and play a few Vulcan mind tricks with his brain.
“I said to myself that he’s young, you never know, at the end, when he’ll have to finish, maybe he’ll make a few wrong choices. That was mostly to help me hold on, but that was the only time I thought, he’s 18 years old,” Tsonga said.
“I knew he was able to do things, crazy things like he did today. I think, yeah, was something great to play him for the second time here,” Tsonga said.
Front tweener a highlight
One key moment came at 5-5 in the fifth set, at 30-all. Tsonga, whose calf had been barking at him (he also said he felt a few mini-cramps in both his forearms as he headed over from the players’ centre to his press conference) got his feet stuck on a ball he thought was going to be a backhand but ended up going to his forehand.
He couldn’t get over in time. And so he hit the ball between his legs. Shapovalov missed the next ball. Eventually, Tsonga broke in that game and served it out at love.
For Shapovalov, there was certainly hope that he could go further – at least to a clash with Kyrgios.
The Canadian and the Aussie bonded a little as part of “Team World” at the Laver Cup last September.
And the victory over an out-of-sorts Kyrgios at his hometown event in 2016, the Rogers Cup, put the Canadian teenager on the map for the first time.
But it won’t happen. Not this time.
“I thought I could have returned better. There (were) a couple games where I was getting a lot of looks on the second serve and just shanking a couple, not doing enough with the ball. With the second shot, he was stepping up. That’s definitely one area I still want to improve a lot. I think it’s gotten unbelievably better, but there’s always room to grow,” Shapovalov said.
“The other part I would say is my volleys. I think I’m volleying a lot better. Still sometimes I’m not setting on my feet, I’m going for too much. I think it’s just going to the net more, having these chances to play more volleys.”
The kid had his moments, though. Many of them.
Shapovalov is provisionally back in the ATP Tour’s top 50. But there are a lot of players still alive in the draw who could jump past him.
Next up is Davis Cup in Croatia, on an indoor clay court.
Yannick Noah, the captain of Team France, brought six players with him to Lille.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille were pretty much locks to play the singles. The burning question was, who would he line up in doubles?
That question was answered at the draw Thursday.
And the two oldest members of the team, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau, will be on the sidelines cheering as Noah selected Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert for the other two spots on the four-man roster.
For Mahut, it has to be a major blow. Mahut and Herbert were 3-0 this season in Davis Cup, defeating Japan, Great Britain and Serbia with the total loss of only one set.
For Belgium, there wasn’t the same embarrassment of riches.
David Goffin will be expected to win both his singles matches, with Steve Darcis playing No. 2.
The two other Belgian players are Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore.
The best, most accomplished doubles tandem on the French side is Herbert and Mahut. The pair qualified for the ATP Tour Finals together last week, and Herbert had a lower back issue there that hastened their withdrawal from the event.
Doubles experience lacking
Still, during the three days of practice this week, Mahut and Benneteau were playing doubles together. The logical conclusion was that the two might be the two selected for the crucial doubles rubber on Saturday.
They also have a lot of experience together.
But no; Herbert and Gasquet are the selections for doubles (although it’s always possible Noah may make substitutions before Saturday’s rubber).
Gasquet is not exactly a doubles guy. He did reach a ranking of No. 45. But that was nearly 10 years ago. He has two career titles: Metz with Fabrice Santoro in 2006, and Sydney with Tsonga in 2008.
He has played just two doubles matches all season, both with Lucas Pouille.
Herbert has never teamed up with Gasquet, or Tsonga, or Pouille. Which has to mean Noah is confident that it won’t come down to a pickup doubles team.
Or that he has health concerns with Tsonga or Pouille, and wants to have a third top-shelf singles player if he needs one.
The action begins Friday, 9 a.m. EST. Same start time for Saturday’s doubles. The Sunday reverse singles begin at 8:30 a.m. EST.
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.
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.
It seems the country’s celebrated tennis landscape has rarely been more dysfunctional. And yet, France’s Davis Cup squad has earned its best and perhaps final legitimate chance going forward to raise the Davis Cup.
Despite producing generation after generation of talent, France last won the Davis Cup in 2001. It last won it on home soil in … 1931.
But this year, it will have a chance to do it at home, against the plucky but undermanned Belgium in late November.
It began slowly, as No. 2 Lucas Pouille went down to Dusan Lajovic in four sets to open the tie on Friday.
“I have a lot to do with Lucas’s loss. At a certain point, we weren’t really communication any more. I felt, in the end, I was hurting him. That’s not a good feeling,” Noah told l’Équipe afterwards. “I have a lot influence on this group, and when I get it wrong, everyone gets it wrong. So much talk about how difficult the match was going to be; I may have soaked too much of that in. I passed on my stress to Lucas.”
But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (in his first Davis Cup appearance in 14 months) didn’t drop a set against Laslo Djere. (Noah said he spent most of the first two sets not saying a word, just thinking). The doubles team of Nicholas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won in straight sets,. And then Tsonga came back to win in four against Lajovic to clinch it.
Goffin did his job; he won his singles matches against Jordan Thompson Friday and Nick Kyrgios Sunday in four sets. But it was Steve Darcis, a 33-year-old who reached a career high in singles (No. 38) this past May but has dealt with hamstring and lower back issues the last few months, who was the difference.
Darcis didn’t win on Friday. But he pushed Kyrgios to five sets. And given the top Aussie isn’t in the best of health, no doubt it had an effect on the fifth and deciding rubber Sunday.
Kyrgios took on Goffin – and lost in four. Darcis then took care of Thompson to clinch the tie.
So much goes into making a Davis Cup final these days. And the result is that the best, deepest tennis nation isn’t winning all that often.
You wouldn’t think a one-man team like Belgium could do it twice in three years. But with so many top players taking a pass, if the draw breaks right, an upstart team can take advantage.
Even France, a loaded team, defeated Japan (no Nishikori), Great Britain (no Andy Murray) and Serbia (no Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic or Viktor Troicki) to reach the final this year.
France generally has all its top players available – and a deep pool to choose from. But it’s been a tough go despite the fact that the current generation – Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet – all have been in the top 10.
France last reached the Davis Cup final in 2014. But that happened to be the year Switzerland had both Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka on board – at the same time – to try to add the silver chalice to their resumés.
Monfils defeated Federer in straight sets on the first day, which game them hope. But they lost the key doubles rubber. And then Federer clinched it on Sunday against Gasquet.
The 2010 final, played in Belgrade with the Serbs featuring full-form Djokovic, Tipsarevic and Troicki, was a drama all to itself.
As both squads decided who to suit up for the fifth and deciding rubber, captain Guy Forget got played a little. They were all certain Serbia would bring back Tipsarevic. Instead, they got Troicki (who had disappeared off the bench to go warm up seemingly without France’s knowledge, while Serbia was well aware that Gilles Simon remained on the French bench).
Forget was debating whether to put out Simon (who was 4-0 against Troicki) or Michaël Llodra. He chose fellow lefty serve-volleyer Llodra, who got trounced. And there were French tears all around.
Will this be the time they finally do it?
Internal drama starts at top
A long-awaited title this year might be even more sweet to the players, since French tennis is an internal hot mess right now.
By tennis standards, the infighting might even be at West Wing level.
It all seemed to go downhill after a quarterfinal loss to Great Britain in 2015.
Captain Arnaud Clément, who played with many of the current veteran crop, was summarily sacked. And the imposition of rock star captain Yannick Noah (it appeared Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the strongest voice in his favor) did nothing for team unity.
Rather removed from the day-to-day tennis scene in France, and the instigator of an inconvenient, expensive relocation to Guadeloupe for the first round against Canada a year ago, Noah has come under criticism for being a negligible source of support to the players except for the week they come under his tutelage.
His relationship with Monfils reportedly is fairly non-existent. His relationship with Tsonga, once thought to be solid, wavered when Noah called him out during the quarterfinal tie in Rouen back in April.
As for this semifinal against Serbia, L’Équipe reported the players feel Noah didn’t prepare. They never even saw him at the US Open just weeks ago; Noah’s only involvement was two phone calls to his assistant captain.
To be so out of the loop on the players’ current forms and states of mind so close to the crucial tie didn’t go over well. He would also have no first-hand assessment of the players who might dress for Serbie.
And, L’Équipe writes, that may well have shown in the Pouille defeat. The future of French tennis preferred to listen to his own coach’s tactical advice rather than that of Noah.
When he was first elected president, Giudicelli often lauded Pouille for his grit. He even invented a new verb, “to Pouille“, which meant, “Facing and conquering one’s fear to impose one’s game, while drawing energy from the public’s support.”
But when the 23-year-old lost in the third round of the French Open and said that the inability to handle his nerves had led to cramping, Giudicelli turned on both Pouille and his coach.
Giudicelli said he couldn’t revolutionize French tennis after just 108 days in office. And in the first French Open under his leadership, no French male player reached the quarterfinals. Overall, it was the poorest showing since 2000. Hence the attack on his players’ grit.
But on the women’s side (so often ignored by French Federation suits unless it suits them), two made the singles quarterfinals. That, of course, was due to Giucidelli’s leadership and involvement leading to their increased motivation – despite only being in office 108 days.
Noah and Giudicelli
As this tie against Serbia neared, Noah admitted there were tensions between the federation and his players and he sided with his players; the message was relayed to Giudicelli that he wouldn’t tolerate the president’s comments “polluting” the players.
There was some backstory to that, too. Noah’s lifelong friend Gilles Moretton (a former French player) was suing Giudicelli for defamation, after Giudicelli refused Moretton’s candidacy for president of a French league because, he said, Moretton had been one of those involved in the 2011 ticket reselling scheme that eventually doomed Giudicelli’s predecessor, Jean Gachassin.
(Giudicelli, a high-level French Federation official, had previously been accused of putting the cone of silence on Gachassin’s alleged involvement, perhaps in the hope that it would help his presidential campaign. That accusation is contained in a report on the scandal by a government body called “The Inspector General for Youth and Sports”. Gachassin is accused of selling some 250-700 French Open tickets – for years – at cost to a travel agent friend who then resold them at up to five times their face value. The tribunal’s decision on this case was postponed, and due to be announced on Tuesday).
His lawyer, speaking in his defense, said Giudicelli was responsible for ending the scam.
L’Équipe chronicled an awkward moment Thursday when Giudicelli tried to say hello to Lucas Pouille three separate times, only to be dissed and dismissed.
“Hello, Lucas,” the president said to Pouille – on three occasions.
Giudicelli pushed it even further. “So, we don’t say ‘Hello’ any more, Lucas?”
Pouille, who had been talking to someone else, turned around. “Sure, we say hello. And goodbye.”
Belgians go quietly along
Among the many things Noah said over the weekend was that he fully expected France to have to travel to Australia for the final. That would have been a rematch of the 2001 final, that was won by the French in Melbourne. And so, full circle.
Van Herck: "Noah a dit hier qu'il allait sûrement aller en Australie j'espère qu'il n'est pas fâché de jouer en France." #noah daviscup
How about Bercy, which will be the site of the Paris Masters event just a few weeks before? According to BFM.TV, the rap group IAM are booked there that weekend.
BFM.TV says the French federation has already been in contact with the brand new U Arena in Nanterre, in the French suburbs – finally completed after the usual French bureaucratic delays and set to open next month with three concerts by the Rolling Stones.
Wherever it is, there’s a great dynamic brewing between France’s Goliath and Belgium’s David – literally.
For all the news about this weekend’s Davis Cup ties (and more great pics like the one above, go to their website.