WASHINGTON, November 23, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
When the Davis Cup by PNB Paribas Final nominations were revealed Thursday afternoon inside Stade Pierre Mauroy, one big name absent from France’s lineup that team captain Yannick Noah submitted was Lucas Pouille, who at No. 32 is the highest-ranked French player on his squad. Talk about an eyebrow-raising, last-minute surprise by the defending champions as France prepares to face Croatia, a team featuring two Top 20 players in Marin Cilic (No. 7) and Borna Coric (No. 12), beginning Friday in Lille.
The stage is set
The players are ready
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) 22. November 2018
By deciding to go with No. 40 Jeremy Chardy, who is unbeaten in Davis Cup play on indoor clay, and No. 259 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is the most successful active French Davis Cup player with 21 singles win but whose injuries has limited his play to just five matches this season, Noah believes it’s his best option to win. Certainly, it’s in keeping with the charismatic Noah’s personality and leadership skills, both which have suited him well in guiding France to three previous Davis Cup championships during his three tenures as team captain. This weekend’s final, which is Noah’s last before he turns over the French captaincy to Amelie Mauresmo, will be played on an indoor red clay surface.
“After looking every day at what was happening – their reactions, the sets we played – I thought that the best thing for the team was to start on Friday with these two players,” said Noah of his decision to nominate Chardy and Tsonga, during a press conference following Thursday’s draw ceremony. “For the last two months, I was looking at so many ways, so many options, so many players. I had to decide whether I was putting first their spirit, their involvement with the team, their recent results, their health, so there were a lot of things coming into play.”
So, what does Croatia’s team captain, Zeljko Krajan think about Noah’s decision to start the 31-year-old Chardy, who is 5-1 in Davis Cup competition, over Pouille at No. 1 singles?
“When we heard that (Gaël) Monfils and (Gilles) Simon weren’t playing and then with (Richard) Gasquet pulling out, (when you) follow Yannick’s moves, sometimes he has some ‘jokers’ that he pulls out of his pocket.
“It’s not realistic sometimes that a player should play with their ranking, but Yannick finds those guys and motivates them to play good and win their matches,” he said. “For some reason, I thought maybe Chardy would be Yannick’s ‘joker’ this week. I just hope he isn’t as successful as he’s been in the Davis Cup in the past.”
It should be noted that all of Chardy’s Davis Cup wins have been on clay and he’s also 2-1 lifetime against Coric, his opponent in the opening rubber on Friday.
Meanwhile, Pouille, who won the decisive fifth rubber that lifted France over Belgium in the 2017 Final, remains available as a substitute nomination for Sunday should either Chardy or Tsonga falter on Friday. Pouille is 3-0 during this season’s other Davis Cup competitions and he’s 7-3 in his Davis Cup career. However, he’s just 5-5 on clay this year.
“It’s never easy to make choices,” said Noah. “This one was very difficult, and subtle. The strength in this team is that we have three players capable of playing in singles.”
By Friday evening, after both rubbers are concluded, Noah will know whether or not he made the right call. The French supporters that will fill most of the 26,429-seat Stade Pierre Mauroy will let him know, too.
Davis Cup notes
• France is aiming for eight straight wins in Davis Cup competition for the third time, which would equal its second-longest Davis Cup winning streak. The last time that 10-time champion France achieved eight consecutive Davis Cup victories was in 2000-02, which included its title victory in 2001 before losing to Russia in the 2002 Final.
• Croatia is chasing after its second Davis Cup title in its third Davis Cup Final. It became the first unseeded nation to win the Davis Cup title when it defeated Slovakia in 2005. It lost in its most recent Final appearance, against Argentina in 2016.
Davis Cup match schedule
• Today – Jeremy Chardy, France, vs. Borna Coric, Croatia, 2 p.m. CET (1 p.m. GMT), followed by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France, vs. Marin Cilic, Croatia.
• Saturday – Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut vs. Ivan Dodig-Mate Pavic, 2 p.m. CET (1 p.m. GMT).
• Sunday – Jeremy Chardy, France, vs. Marin Cilic, Croatia, 1 p.m. CET (Noon GMT), followed by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France, vs. Borna Coric, Croatia.