In a clash for a place in the Davis Cup final between two European heavyweights, defending champions France take on the five-time champions Spain. The French ended their long wait for a 10th title last year with a victory over Belgium in Lille. Spain, meanwhile, have not won a title since 2011 when their challenge was spearheaded by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer and they have not returned to the final since 2012. But will it be more joy for France or will Spain reach their first final in six years?
The French Team
Though a number of French stalwarts over the past few years including Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet were not selected, ‘Les Bleus’ have fielded a strong team nonetheless. Leading them into singles action is two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Lucas Pouille who clinched the French win last year with victory in the decisive rubber against Belgium’s Steve Darcis. Joining him is Benoit Paire, chosen above French #2 Richard Gasquet.
It was a surprising pick from captain Yannick Noah, but on his day Paire can be almost unstoppable. The French also have two strong doubles players to represent the tricolour. Nicolas Mahut, three-times a Grand Slam champion and a former doubles world #1 will be their star man, but he will surely be ably assisted by Julien Benneteau. Benneteau is to retire at the end of this year after a glittering career which included winning the men’s doubles title at the French Open in 2014.
The Spanish Team
World #1 Rafael Nadal was forced to withdraw from this clash due to a flareup of the tendinitis that has long affected him and that forced him to retire from his US Open semifinal with Juan Martin del Potro. In his place, Spanish #2 Pablo Carreno Busta leads the team into singles action. Carreno Busta, the world #21 was once ranked as high as 10th in the world and is a former US Open semifinalist though he has endured a rather difficult year.
Roberto Bautista Agut will help him shoulder the burden in singles. Bautista Agut, the world #26, has been an extremely dependable player for the Spanish for some years now and can be expected to give a good account of himself. The Spanish will look to Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers to win them the often decisive doubles rubber. Lopez is nearing the end of his career but remains a dangerous player in both singles and doubles, whilst the qualities of former doubles world #4 Granollers speak for themselves.
The French are playing host to this tie and have chosen to return to the scene of their final victory last year: Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy. Principally used as a football stadium and with a maximum capacity of over 50,000, the Stade Pierre Mauroy has seen plenty of raucous atmospheres in the past when the French Davis Cup Team have been in town. They have chosen to play the tie on an indoor hard court, which one would expect to play quite fast.
This is a very difficult tie to call. The two teams look reasonably evenly matched and without Rafael Nadal neither really have a star man to win them the tie. But there are a number of factors that should tip the odds in favour of the French. Their doubles pairing is marginally superior, they are playing on a surface of their choosing which will help their players more than the Spaniards and they will have the backing of the majority of the crowd. Expect a narrow 3-2 French victory.