October 31st, 2014
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The last time that France won the Davis Cup was back in 2001, when they faced Australia in the final. On that occasion Nicolas Escude sealed victory for the French in the fifth rubber by defeating Wayne Arthurs.
Fast-forward 13 years and the nations are meeting once again but this time in the opening round of the World Group.
The only survivor from the 2001 tie is the remarkable Lleyton Hewitt, who is still Australian number one at 32-years-old. Hewitt will lead his team on the long journey to La Roche sur Yon, where the tie is to played on indoor clay.
France has a strong line-up for the tie with Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, ranked at nine and 10 in the world respectively, joined by Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau. The nation has won five consecutive victories at this stage of the competition and will be looking to ensure that home advantage pays dividends.
France captain Arnaud Clement saw his team lose to Argentina at the quarter-final stage in 2013. But given the country currently has seven men ranked inside the Top 40 there must be a good chance of going further this year.
“We have a big team now so we hope to win the Davis Cup this year, for that we need to win against Australia,” commented French number one Richard Gasquet. “I think we can do a nice competition, we can win the title, and we will try our best to do that. Of course, there are many teams we need to beat and we will try our best to do that.”
Australia come into the match with Hewitt the only team member in the top 100. The veteran is joined by teenagers Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, who both made the second round at the Australian Open, and Chris Guccione.
Despite the big deficit in terms of player rankings compared to the French team, Australia captain Pat Rafter remained optimistic about his team’s chances.
“We still believe we have a chance,” said Rafter. “These kids, they’re pretty exceptional in many ways. There’s an element of blending of them into the team as well, no doubt about that, and give them that exposure. I think they’ll deal with it really well. I think they’re going to love the atmosphere and the occasion,” he continued.
“You never know. Davis Cup has a tradition of throwing up some upsets. When you’ve got youth and energy on your side, you have passion, you always have a chance.”
Clement was clear that he is expecting a tough contest.
“It is not about the rankings. It is Davis Cup. It is France versus Australia. It is Lleyton Hewitt, it is Pat Rafter and some very talented young players,” he said.