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Noah's lark pays off as France win doubles to lead Davis Cup final against Belgium
There were raised eyebrows and dark mutterings when France team captain Yannick Noah selected Richard Gasquet to play Saturday's doubles with Pïerre-Hugues Herbert instead of his usual partner Nicolas Mahut.
Herbert and Mahut aren’t exactly neophytes. They have two Grand Slam titles under their belt as well as six triumphs at Masters events which are considered just below the Grand Slams in terms of prestige.
They would have been the natural pairing to contest the third point of any Davis Cup tie let alone the 2017 final against Belgium in Lille.
Noah’s believers and the doubters were taken on a roller coaster ride on Saturday at the Stade Pierre Mauroy as first Gasquet and Herbert were rampant.
It took the Belgian pair of Joris De Loore and Ruben Bemelmans 26 minutes to win their first game. That made it 5-1 and Gasquet served out to clinch the first set 6-1 after half an hour. Not bad for men who had never featured in a competitive doubles match together.
The French duo then turned in a tentative 40 minutes as the Belgians recovered from their opening set drubbing to claim the second set 6-3 and then serve for the third set leading 5-4.
But Bemelmans’ serve and volleys deserted him. The French levelled at 5-5 and resuscitated rampaging mode to sweep through the third set tiebreak seven points to two.
“It’s clear that there’s a bit more pressure on you at 5-4 and serving for the set than at 0-0,” said Bemelmans. “There were too many second services and they had the chances to really hit their returns. It was a shame that I couldn’t have served better in that game.”
Encouraged by a raucous partisan crowd, the reenergised French looked the likelier pair and they engineered the break to lead 4-3 in the fourth. They did not falter.
After three hours and three minutes, Noah’s gamble had reaped handsome dividends. “It was a difficult decision to bring in Gasquet instead of Mahut,” said Noah. “But people on the outside don’t see the things that I and my staff do. Actually some of the people on the inside don’t see things the way we do.
"It’s true for me personally it’s really good that Gasquet and Herbert won this match.”
The victory takes France to within one win of hoisting the Davis Cup for the 10th time in the 117 year history of the competition. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the French number one, will take on his Belgian counterpart David Goffin in the first match on Sunday.
Goffin has won only two of his six meetings with Tsonga. But Goffin goes into the encounter as the higher ranked player and pepped by a string of impressive victories over the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the end of season championships in London last week.
“Tsonga against Goffin is going to be a good match,” said the Belgium team skipper Johan Van Herck. “David has the game to beat him but Tsonga is a good player who is used to playing on the final day of a Davis Cup match. It will be a game worthy of a final day during a final.”