Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pulled France level at 1-1 in the Davis Cup final with an assured three-set win over Belgium’s Steve Darcis in Lille on Friday.
David Goffin had mercilessly swept aside close friend Lucas Pouille to give outsiders Belgium the first point at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
But world No. 15 Tsonga steadied home nerves in the second rubber of the opening day with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 success over 76th-ranked Darcis to boost France’s hopes of claiming the trophy for the first time since 2001.
France’s top player, a beaten finalist against Switzerland at this same venue in 2014, took 1 hour 46 minutes to dispatch the Belgian number two in the pair’s first ever encounter.
Darcis put up stubborn resistance until Tsonga finally managed to break the Belgian’s serve in the eighth game.
Tsonga’s power denied Darcis any chance of a comeback in the first set and it was plain sailing for the 32-year-old from then on.
“After the first match my job was to get my team back to 1-1, no matter what the score was or how I did it,” said Tsonga.
“Whether it’s us or the Belgians our mission is to bring home the salad bowl (trophy), that’s the only thing that counts. If I could push the ball on with my teeth, I’d do it!”
— FFT (@FFTennis) November 24, 2017
Darcis, known as ‘Mr Davis Cup’ by fans due to his stellar record in the competition, conceded he’d been beaten by the better man.
“I came up against someone who was stronger than me today. The idea was to impose my style of play and stop him doing the same, it didn’t come off,” said Darcis.
Tsonga’s success left the 2017 final finely poised ahead of Saturday’s doubles with France captain Yannick Noah still hesitating whether to stick with his proposed pairing of Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, or throw Tsonga into the mix. Herbert’s long-time doubles partner Nicolas Mahut was bizarrely not picked for the team.
Noah suggested the 1-1 scoreline was “logical”.
“The two matches were similar, there was some tension on both sides. Between David and Lucas there was a moment when it was balanced but from when David pulled clear there wasn’t much to do,” said Noah.
“It was similar with Jo. We knew Darcis was a Davis Cup player. He loves to dig in then change a gear to win. But Jo didn’t give him the opportunity to do that.
“He (Tsonga) was very solid, he played a very good match. I was delighted. So 1-1 is logical.”
Goffin, the world number seven, won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in front of a crowd of close to 26,000 fans, many making the short trip from across the border with Belgium.
Goffin, who last week lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the title decider at the ATP Finals in London, needed just under two hours to give the Belgians the upper hand as they look to win the Davis Cup for the first time.
This was the 26-year-old’s first win over 18th-ranked Pouille in their fourth meeting.
Goffin got the better of his French foe’s strong baseline play, making the telling break in the 11th game to serve out to love to take the opening set.
He broke Pouille’s serve at the start of the second, going on to break again to take the set 6-3, and race to a 3-0 lead in the third.
A deft backhand winner lifted the Belgian to 5-1 and he sealed the first point of the 2017 final with a crosscourt forehand winner.
“I’ve pushed the salad bowl a little towards the border, only a little because it’s heavy,” said Goffin, referring to the trophy. “I’m thrilled to have set the team off like that.”
Pouille was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “On that form he should have won the Masters (ATP Finals). There’s not much to say, he’s playing the tennis of his life.”
Noah was keeping his cards close to his chest meanwhile on his pairing for Saturday’s doubles saying he may leave a decision “until the last moment”.
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Roger Federer believes reverting back to 16 seeds at the Grand Slams is “intriguing” while ex-world No. 1 Carlos Moya says it’s “better for the fans”.
The Grand Slam Board announced on Tuesday changes and trials that will be implemented at the majors, one of which includes reducing the number of seeds from 32 to 16 in 2019.
Halving the number of seeds is an attempt to make the early rounds of the Grand Slams more interesting as it will open up the possibility of higher-ranked players facing off early.
There were 16 seeds at Slams until after Wimbledon in 2001, when the US Open, motivated by demands from television networks, asked for 32 in the hope that stars would still be in contention in the closing rounds.
The decision to revert back to 16 seeds was taken during a two-day meeting of the Grand Slam Board in London last week.
Federer told reporters during the ATP Finals that he understands the issue with having 32 seeds and that taking that number down to 16 could have its advantages.
The Swiss 19-time Grand Slam champion competed in nine majors that had 16 seeds before the figure was doubled in 2001.
“I think there is definitely something intriguing about having 16 seeds. I see the problem of the 32 seeds, it makes – I mean the eight seeds get byes usually at the Masters 1000 I believe, so you make it like these stairs, where once you’re in it, you’re kind of safe, and I feel like there’s too many of these stairs, you know, that you have to get to the top, it’s hard to drop out and hard to get into,” explained Federer in London.
“But I think maybe having 16 seeds that might be interesting, because the draw can be more volatile, and better matches the first week because top guys make a habit or, not cruising, but getting through the first week somewhat comfortably for a long period of time now.
“I do believe playing No.17, or 19, or 21 in the world is not something the top guys really want to do but it is what it is.”
I must have missed the players vote on this. Another example of no voice for the players. I don’t mind the 16 seeds and the withdrawals, but the shot clock and the time during and after warm up I’m not a fan of. https://t.co/Wwx7cUgfzP
— CoCo Vandeweghe (@CoCoVandey) November 21, 2017
The current 32-seed format means that seeded players can only face-off from the third round onwards. Once that is halved in 2019, a world No. 1 could play a world No. 17 in the opening round. Today, this means a Rafael Nadal v John Isner clash could take place in the first round of a major.
Nadal’s coach, Moya, competed in many Slams that had 16-seed draws. The Spanish 1998 French Open champion sees both pros and cons for the board’s decision.
“For the top players, it’s better like it is now (32 seeds), from the other players’ perspective it’s better the other way, and for the crowd and people watching, probably 16 seeds is better. You get to see more interesting matches in the first rounds,” Moya told Sport360.
The Grand Slam Board also agreed to introduce an on-court shot clock – trialed during the US Open qualifying tournament last August – that would enforce a time limit of 25 seconds between points.
The shot clock proved a big hit with the players during the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan earlier this month.
Other decisions taken during the board meeting include a strict enforcement of the pre-match warm-up timing, as well as a new rule regarding first-round withdrawals at the majors.
A player who withdraws before main draw action starts will receive 50 per cent of first-round prize money in order to discourage competitors from starting their opening rounds while knowingly injured then retiring halfway through. The other half of the prize money would go to the replacement lucky loser.
.@ATPWorldTour Did A Great Job With The #LLRule This Year!!! 50% Is 2 Low, Last Round Qs Prizemoney (Its A Bit Over 50% Of 1st Round Main Draw Prizemoney Ex: USOpen2017) Has Been Goin Back 2 The Tournie If There Was A LL… https://t.co/EMU9TulPLO
— Dustin Brown (@DreddyTennis) November 21, 2017
This year’s Wimbledon witnessed seven first-round retirements in the men’s singles main draw which sparked controversy surrounding players who started matches knowing they were not fit enough to compete, only to collect thousands of pounds in prize money.
Novak Djokovic will make his long-awaited return to tennis on December 29 with either Dominic Thiem or Milos Raonic set to welcome him back at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC).
The 10th edition of the capital showpiece takes place from December 28-30 and the tournament will host the comebacks of both Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka from their lengthy injury lay-offs.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion ended his 2017 season after retiring during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych and has since been out of action with an elbow injury.
Djokovic was handed a first-round bye when the draw was officially announced on Tuesday and in the other half of the draw, Rafael Nadal was also given a bye.
The world No1 will take on the winner of Pablo Carreno Busta and Wawrinka – setting up the tantalising prospect of a MWTC final clash between Nadal and Djokovic.
The two first-round ties will be played on December 28 with the semi-finals the following day before culminating in the December 30 final.
Tickets for the landmark 10th edition of the MWTC are on sale at www.ticketmaster.ae and all Virgin Megastores across the UAE. For more information, visit: www.mubadalawtc.com.