WASHINGTON, November 27, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)
There’s so much pressure in France to win a Davis Cup. Especially now, since a new generation of “musketeers” featuring Gäel Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have once again made France a competitive team.
When Belgium’s mighty ace, World No. 7 David Goffin, leveled the 2017 Davis Cup championship tie at two points apiece after beating France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga convincingly in straight sets, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2, in the opening reverse singles on Sunday afternoon, many of the 25,000-plus passionate French fans who packed Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, France – just a few kilometers from the Belgian border – must have felt a collective, sinking feeling that their hopes of winning the Coupe Davis was slipping away for another year – again.
Imagine, the difficult decision that French captain Yannick Noah – the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam when he triumphed at the 1983 French Open – faced in deciding to insert 23-year-old Lucas Pouille in the decisive fifth rubber instead of the more experienced Gasquet, 31. After all, Pouille was taken down by Goffin in Friday’s first singles rubber, and Gasquet teamed with Pierre-Hugues Herbert to win Saturday’s doubles rubber over Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore in four sets after having never previously played together.
Thus, for the second straight year, the Davis Cup final came down to a fifth and final rubber. The winner takes home the Davis Cup. So, there was just a little pressure riding on the outcome of the final tennis match of the year.
Looking back, Noah’s decision proved brilliant – the right one. Pouille, ranked No. 18 in the world and born just 75km from Lille, beat an overmatched Steve Darcis, 6-3, 6-1, 6-0, in just one hour and 34 minutes. Pouille showed his dominance in the final set by winning 25 of 34 points against the No. 76 Darcis. Leave it to the captain to be the first to sprint out on court to hug and congratulate Pouille. The rest of the joyful French team soon followed.
After 16 years of struggle and frustration – including losing each of the past three finals (2002, 2010, 2014) it competed in – France finally won its 10th Davis Cup championship. It was their first title since they beat Australia in 2001. France drew even with Great Britain, but still trails the U.S, which has won the Davis Cup a record 32 times and second-place Australia with 28. Belgium, which lost the 2015 final to Great Britain, is still looking for its first Davis Cup title.
Cue up the “La Marseillaise!” Never has a winning French team and its fans sung France’s national anthem more proudly than they did during the awards ceremony in Lille.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) 26. November 2017
Asked to describe the feeling of winning the Davis Cup, Pouille said during an English-language TV interview following his clinching victory, “No words needed. We have finally won it.
“There’s nothing better than winning as a team, with my mates, in front of the fans, my family and my friends. We’re going to celebrate and make the most of it. I’m proud of my team.”
Speaking for Belgium, Goffin, who improved to 21-3 in singles rubbers with his pair of wins over Pouille and Tsonga – his team’s only points during the tie – said: “It’s a disappointment even if I played two good matches. When the team loses we’re all disappointed. We gave it our all. It’s tough to finish this way, but we did a lot of good things as a team this year.”
So, too, did France, and it marked the third Davis Cup victory as captain for Noah, who came back in 2015 for a third stint as France’s Davis Cup captain after he skippered his country’s team twice in the 1990s – winning in 1991 and 1996.
Shortly after Pouille’s clinching victory, Noah described what it all meant for a television interviewer. “It was a beautiful adventure,” he said. “We had eight, nine players capable of playing. We had a terrific team spirit. It was really beautiful to win.
“We played for people we love. I’m very proud for my team.”
Looking back, France, which advanced to the championship tie against Belgium with victories over Japan, Great Britain and Serbia, won with a committed group of players. Everyone understood and accepted their roles on the team – and this French team showed its strength in numbers. Plus, Noah backed Pouille from the beginning despite his opening-day loss to Goffin. He would have been unmercifully second-guessed if France had been swept in the reverse singles after entering the final day ahead 2-1. Instead, it turned out to be a beautiful adventure, just as Noah pictured it. Looking ahead, Pouille’s definitely the future of French tennis.
Vive la France!
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.