Switzerland on the brink of Davis Cup glory after doubles win

Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka took a crucial lead in the 2014 Davis Cup Final on Saturday with a straight-sets defeat of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet.

The Swiss pair validated captain Severin Luthi’s bold move to put them in for the doubles instead of the nominated Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer, defeating Benneteau and Gasquet 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in two hours 12 minutes.

Looking like a different person to the player who lost to Gael Monfils on Friday, Federer was a commanding presence in a match where the visitors gained in stature while the French pair’s resistance faded. Wawrinka continued the high-energy display that saw him defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening match and now the Swiss have a vital 2-1 lead going into Sunday.

It was quite a turnaround for the Swiss in this tense encounter in Lille, Federer and Wawrinka producing a fine performance to show why they were the 2008 Olympic gold medallists. The victory also ended a run of four losses for the pair together in Davis Cup, and marked their first match win on clay.

In contrast Benneteau and Gasquet, playing together in Davis Cup for the first time, never quite found their groove, and were left to rue a cluster of missed opportunities in the second set which could have turned the match had they been taken.

“I'm very happy, of course, that we played so well today.  It's always a pleasure playing with Stan. But I think today we played exceptionally well,” said Federer. “Nothing's won really yet, but clearly it could be a big point.”

On the subject of his back, Federer said he is feeling good after the doubles. “For me I think probably a doubles is a proper test, as well, because you got to keep serve and volleying, be explosive all the time.  Yeah, I'm very relieved to do that, I'm actually feeling really well… So, got one more match tomorrow. I'll try to play my best tomorrow. Hopefully I'll feel fine again.”

Wawrinka, who turned in his second stunning performance in two days, said, “I feel that I'm playing well, good tennis. I'm great on the court, a lot of confidence. You know, I'm here to go for the win, not to expect something else. I need to try everything I have in my racket to win those matches.”

The first set was tight, with entertaining rallies from the start thrilling the 27,360 fans crammed into the Stade Pierre Mauroy, among them French President Francois Hollande. The Swiss got the first chances though on Benneteau’s serve in the sixth game after errors from both Frenchmen gave them two break points.

Benneteau, at No. 5 the man on court with the highest doubles ranking, saved the first break point with a smash but Wawrinka sent a return flying past Gasquet for the Swiss to go 4-2 up. To loud cries of “Hopp Suisse” from the 2,700 visiting fans, Federer and Wawrinka carried that momentum through the remainder of the first set, Federer serving it out after 28 minutes.

Gasquet and Benneteau got their first chance to break in the second game of the second set, capitalising on two failed serve-and-volley attempts by the Swiss pair to bring up 30-40 on Federer’s serve. The Swiss No. 1 got out of trouble with a smash to cries of “Come on!” from the Swiss contingent.

Two games later France had two more break points on Wawrinka’s serve, but couldn’t convert either of them, the home pair twice finding the net cord and having to watch as the ball bounced out on the other side. At 4-4, the hosts got two further chances on the Australian Open champion’s serve. The first was set up by a Benneteau winner that fizzed between Federer and Wawrinka, but Federer cleared it with a high backhand smash for deuce; the second came after Wawrinka sent a forehand wide, but the world No. 4 produced a 145 mph serve to hold and subdue the home crowd.

Those five break points in the middle of the second set were to be the last chances Benneteau and Gasquet could muster as the Swiss piled on the pressure to get two more break points on Benneteau’s serve at 5-4. The French got out of trouble there, but two games later the Swiss broke Gasquet for a 6-5 lead before Wawrinka served out the second set to love.

The Swiss looked ever more comfortable, benefiting from Swiss captain Luthi’s decision to hire David Macpherson, coach of doubles world No. 1 Bob and Mike Bryan, as a consultant to the team for the tie. Benneteau and Gasquet’s lack of recent matches both individually and as team was increasingly a factor for the hosts. The pair won a bronze doubles medal together at London 2012 but hadn’t played together competitively since March 2013, and last teamed on clay in 2007.

Federer and Wawrinka had their first opportunity of the third set on Gasquet’s serve in the third game but the French saved two break points to keep hanging on. But at 2-2 the Swiss got three more break points on the Benneteau serve, with Wawrinka sealing the crucial break at the third time of asking with a forehand between the French pair.

Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Benneteau hit the first two double faults of the match to give the Swiss their first match point. France managed to cling on to make Switzerland serve for the match and Federer swiftly followed through, serving out to love as Wawrinka sealed the vital win with a cross court backhand volley.

“I could have played better,” said Gasquet afterwards. "I was not able to make the breakpoints I had in the second set. If we would have had a break, of course that doesn't mean we would have won, but we would have been in a better position for winning this second set where we had five breakpoints.

“I’m disappointed with the match, but the opponents played extremely well. They are extremely strong. They had very good returns. They played very interesting combinations. It was impressive.”

The Swiss are now one win away from winning the Davis Cup for the first time in history, with Federer able to clinch it if he can defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first reverse singles on Sunday. But amid rumours of an arm injury to Tsonga, both teams have until one hour before the match to make substitutions.

“Of course it's going to be very, very difficult now, with a lot of hope in these doubles,” said French captain Arnaud Clement. “We have to do something big, very big. We still have a chance, and we're going to try as hard as possible.  It's a big challenge, big challenge for us, to beating No. 2 and 4 in the world in the final of Davis Cup.”

“But even if we have a little chance, we're going to try.”

Date: 23rd November 2014, Source: Davis Cup


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