WASHINGTON, November 14, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
With the 2018 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final just nine days away, defending champion France and 2016 runner-up Croatia have announced their rosters for next week’s showdown in Lille, France.
The 106th Davis Cup Final will take place Nov. 23-25 at Stade Pierre Mauroy on an indoor red clay surface in the northern France city. It will be the third meeting between the two countries and the first two ties have gone to the home team. Croatia, which not lost away from home since 2015, won its most recent meeting against France, 3-2, in the 2016 semifinals.
The good news for 10-time champion France is that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who helped lead the French to last year’s Davis Cup trophy, is back on the team after missing all of this year’s previous ties because of injury. His current ranking has dropped to No. 261.
However, as team captain Yannick Noah readies for his final tie after announcing earlier this year that he will step down from the role, he’s faced with having a roster that does not include France’s three top-ranked players – Richard Gasquet (No. 26), Gaël Monfils (No. 29) and Gilles Simon (No. 30). So, he has nominated No. 32 Lucas Pouille, who won last year’s deciding fifth rubber against Belgium, and No. 42 Jeremy Chardy, plus World No. 9 doubles team Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
“The only thing I know is that our goal is to win against the Croats,” said Noah, as quoted by The Associated Press. “The mindset, the ability to adapt to clay, and the commitment to Davis Cup are what really matters.”
Noah has guided France to three of its 10 Davis Cup titles – in 1991, 1996, and 2017. He will step down, win or lose, after next week’s final and turn over the French captaincy to Amelie Mauresmo. The 1983 French Open champion said, “I’m very excited. It’s been two months that we have been preparing for this last final with my staff. I’m both motivated and excited.”
Meanwhile, Croatia’s team captain, Zeljko Krajan, will counter with two Top 20 players to anchor his team’s singles lineup. World No. 7 Marin Cilic, a veteran of 24 ties and 27 singles victories dating back to 2006, and No. 12 Borna Coric, who lifted Croatia into this year’s final with a five-set fifth-rubber victory against the United States this fall, are a formidable 1-2 combo for the Croatians. Mate Pavic, the World No. 3 in doubles, who has won five titles this year (with Austria’s Oliver Marach), will pair with either No. 28 Franko Skugor or No. 35 Ivan Dodig, who has made 31 Davis Cup appearances since his debut in 2002. Both can also provide back-up singles support. This group is the same five Croatians who beat the United States to advance to the final. According to a federation statement, Krajan remains loyal to his players who lifted them into the final.
France advanced to this year’s final by defeating Spain 3-2 at Lille after clinching the semifinal tie on the second day after winning the doubles rubber. However, Croatia needed to go the distance against the United States before winning 3-2 at Zadar. On paper, the match-ups would seem to favor Croatia, but having the home crowd could be a difference maker for France.
Next year, the Davis Cup will feature a revamped format, switching to an 18-nation finals week in Madrid in November.