|Posted on September 13, 2014 at 5:30 AM|
French secure final berth with doubles win
By Craig Gabriel
PARIS, FRANCE: For the first time since 2010 France are in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final after taking an unassailable 3-0 lead against the two-time defending champions, the Czech Republic.
The Czechs came out focused and had to give it everything and more to keep their hopes alive and take the semifinal into a live final day. Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek were put in as expected, having lost just one of 16 previous doubles rubbers as a team, and they took the first set as the French tandem of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, in only their second appearance together in Davis Cup, tried to find their groove.
Gradually though the French worked their way back but still it was a tight match. The crowd were playing a vital part and it was only in the fourth that the French asserted a dominance to win 67(4) 64 76(5) 61.
“It’s unbelievable, this feeling is fantastic,” said Arnaud Clement, who is only in his second year as captain. “The players had a very tough match, it was very emotional. There were a lot of tough points and we were so lucky for the chance to play here in the stadium in front of this crowd. It’s amazing for us.”
The Czech Captain Jaroslav Navratil extended his congratulations to the French team for the way they played and the way they conducted themselves. He said they were better prepared and wished them every good fortune for the final but admitted the loss still hits hard.
“For sure it feels really bad,” he said. “If you have eleven straight victories and finish like this, it is always bad, but there are still good opportunities to play next year and we see how it’s going.”
In the first set Stepanek saved break points in the eighth game before the set went to the tiebreak. France jumped to a 4-2 lead, punctuated by a backhand cross-court winner from Gasquet that was a sizzler. But then some loose play by Tsonga saw the Czechs erase the deficit and close out the set when Tsonga sent a forehand volley into the net.
With the glorious crowd maintaining their vocal chords on high, the French began to find some opening and put the pressure on in the second set.
They broke Stepanek for 3-2 as Tsonga came up with this flick backhand cross-court off his shoelaces for a winner. They maintained the advantage but at 5-4 Stepanek left the court for a medical time out, he had hurt his lower right back and was in pain. However, he was closely followed by Berdych and Tsonga but they needed bathroom breaks.
On returning, Tsonga served out the set by powering down an ace that made a cracking sound it was hit so hard.
“It happened during the second set during a service game of mine and I felt a little pain but didn't pay much attention but it was getting worse and worse every minute and I needed urgent treatment and from then on it was just ore and more painful,” said Stepanek.
“But really first things, I’d like to congratulate the French team because they have been outstanding. We gave everything we had and they deserve to be in the final. We are doing our best for such a long time and as Tomas says it has to end one time … unfortunately it was here.”
The third set looked like it was going to be a straight forward rout for the home side. They had broken serve twice and with Gasquet serving, they were at 40-0, just one point from a commanding 4-0 lead. The French were looking so good and confident that Gasquet and Tsonga high-fived each other following a booming smash from Tsonga.
Suddenly things came off the rails. Gasquet lost his serve and the Czechs won five of the next six games. However, after the seventh game Stepanek needed another dose of treatment, this time it was done on the court. Berdych was having to take on most of the burden in the match as Stepanek was struggling.
The set went to the tiebreaker and the French were scrambling and were down a mini-break but they recovered to win it 7-5 as the famed Gasquet backhand found its mark down the line for a winner.
Stepanek was broken in the fourth game and Berdych suffered the same fate in the sixth game. Tsonga was serving for the finals berth. He was taking deep breaths and on his second match point fired down an ace. The crowd erupted to deafening decibels.
“It’s great,” said Tsonga. For sure it is one of our best moments in our career, to play here in Roland Garros for a semifinal and to win on the second day, it’s unbelievable.”