LILLE, November 24, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The 2018 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final between defending champion France and Croatia continues on Saturday with the French facing a do-or-die situation in front of their home fans in Lille.
When the two nations return to the red clay inside Stade Pierre Mauroy in the north of France for their 2 p.m. CET (1 p.m. GMT) doubles rubber, which matches the World No. 8 pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut of France against No. 4 Mate Pavic and No. 35 Ivan Dodig of Croatia, it’s must-win time for the French. They trail 2-0 following Friday’s twin wins by Croatia’s Borna Coric and Marin Cilic against the overmatched Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Both Croatian victories were near-perfect performances and each ended in straight sets.
No team since Australia in 1939 has come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a Davis Cup final. Add to that, four of the last five Davis Cup Finals have all been won by the away team. Whether or not France can recover from its first-day misery, Les Bleus have their work cut out for them if they’re going to successfully defend their 2017 Davis Cup title.
To their credit, Herbert and Mahut are a formidable doubles team. Mahut has been on the winning side of six consecutive doubles rubbers and has an 8-2 win-loss record in all Davis Cup doubles rubbers. Herbert has won six of the seven Davis Cup doubles rubbers he has played. Meanwhile, despite his success on the ATP Tour, Pavic is 0-4 in Davis Cup rubbers. Dodig has won seven of his last eight Davis Cup doubles rubbers, but is 13-14 overall.
Looking back on his team’s success on Friday, Croatia team captain Zeljko Krajan said he was most impressed by the mental strength shown by both Coric and Cilic. “I said to them before that it’s going to be very hard and that they can forget all the statistics and head-to-heads because it’s the final and we’re playing away.
“I was hoping the quality from Borna and Marin would prevail and that was the case, because they were not overawed by the crowd. It was a great day for us.”
Indeed, both Coric and Cilic appeared able to block out the loud noise and distractions that came from the mostly partisan crowd of 19,444, which filled up Stade Pierre Mauroy. Coric, just 22, showed much maturity and confidence in beating Chardy (nine years his senior), 6-2, 7-5, 6-4, in the opening rubber. He never succumbed to the pressure of playing in his first Davis Cup Final. His win set the tone for Croatia for the rest of the day. When it was Cilic’s turn, he served superbly and simply outplayed Tsonga, winning 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
“We lost against better players and a better team today,” said French team captain Yannick Noah after his squad’s pair of losses. “When we had break points, they always found first serves and it felt like we never had any real opportunities. It was another level.
“Yes, maybe we could have played a little better, but it’s easy to play better against lesser opponents. They dominated. They beat us fairly.”
Davis Cup notes
• Sunday’s reverse singles are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. CET (Noon GMT). It’s Chardy vs. Cilic followed by Tsonga vs. Coric.
• Croatia is the only nation to have beaten France during team captain Yannick Noah’s current tenure. In their most recent meeting, in the 2016 World Group semifinals, Croatia defeated France 3-2, with all three points won by Marin Cilic. Croatia and France are tied 1-1 in their overall Davis Cup head-to-head.
• France’s loss to Croatia in the 2016 World Group semifinals is the only tie that Yannick Noah has lost since returning for his third stint as French Davis Cup captain. He has a 9-1 win-loss record as team captain since the beginning of the 2016 season. His overall win-loss record as team captain is 21-5.
• Friday’s attendance of 19,444 inside Stade Pierre Mauroy was 6,985 short of the 26,429-seat capacity listed for this year’s Davis Cup Final. The stadium holds the record for the largest crowd in Davis Cup history, when 27,448 spectators attended on the final day of the 2014 Final.