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By Tennis Now | Saturday, November 25, 2017

Richard Gasquet

In their first match together, Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won the doubles point to put host France one win from the Davis Cup championship.

Photo credit: Davis Cup BNP Paribas Facebook

A new mix put France one win from its first Davis Cup in 16 years.

First-time French partners Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert rallied from 3-5 down in the third set dispatching Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, staking France to a 2-1 over visiting Belgium before 27,000 excited fans in Lille.

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“We won the first time we played together,” Herbert said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we stayed together from the beginning to the end. We stayed together and we got the win so we’re so happy.”

France stands one win from clinching its 10th Davis Cup championship—and first since 2001 when Nicolas EscudΓ© defeated Wayne Arthurs in the decisive fifth match lifting Les Bleus to a 3-2 triumph over host Australia.

“So close; you go through all the emotions,” French captain Yannick Noah told Davis Cup TV afterward. “At one point in the first set I thought we had it. I know how important the doubles is—the team that wins the doubles has a great chance to win the whole thing.

“Then they come back and start playing better than we did. (At) 5-3 in the third we were in trouble, then they did great they did deliver and they prevailed. I’m so happy for them.”

Captain Noah went with his gut instinct pairing Gasquet and Mahut for the first time—while leaving Herbert’s standard partner, Nicolas Mahut, and Julien Benneteau off the roster—a move that forced Herbert to switch from his standard ad-side spot to the deuce side.

Noah knew his head was on the line, but the third-set rally keyed his team’s charge through the finish.

“In my heart of hearts I know it’s the right choice, but you’re always worried,” Noah admitted. “Even though I think it’s the right choice there are so many people here that are just waiting to cut my head whatever I’m doing.

“I’m not playing for that, I’m playing for the people that are here. You can’t help but be worried about what happens if they lose, but they saved me.”

French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can clinch the Cup against seventh-ranked David Goffin in tomorrow’s opening reverse singles. Tsonga has won four of six meetings with Goffin, including a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory in the Rotterdam final in February.

If Goffin prevails, Belgian veteran Steve Darcis is scheduled to face Lucas Pouille in the fifth and final rubber though Noah could opt for Gasquet if the fifth match is the decisive match.

Three years ago, Gasquet and Julien Benneteau fell to the Swiss side of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in the 2014 final also staged at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille.

On this day, Gasquet and Herbert got off to a flying start.

Flicking a stretched forehand return, Gasquet forced the net-rushing Bemelmans to scrape a volley from his shoelaces that died in net as France broke for the second time.

Gasquet hammered a high backhand volley down the middle as Herbert held at love backing up the break for 5-0.

Belgium saved a set point on de Loore’s serve. Then Gasquet, who had been splitting the Belgian pair down the middle, unloaded on a backhand pass down the line for a second set point. The red side saved it and finally got on the board when a poaching Bemelmans knocked off a forehand volley.

Sliding an ace down the T, Gasquet brought France three more set points. The hosts closed a dynamic opening set in 29 minutes.

Outclassed in the opener, Belgium broke Herbert’s serve with some timely returns for a 3-1 second-set lead inciting a roar from Belgian fans.

France broke right back only to see de Loore stick an astounding running forehand down the line into the corner. A rattled Gasquet followed a foot-fault call with a double fault as Belgium gained the third straight break for 4-2.

Bemelmans jammed a slider serve wide on the deuce side to seal the second set.

The Belgian duo gained a couple of break points in the opening game of the third set, but Herbert hung tough to hold. Facing break points again, Herbert pumped an ace down the middle working through another challenging hold for 3-2.

Moving in unison, Belgium opened the court setting up de Loore for a flashing volley earning the pair triple break point in the seventh game.

Then came the head shot.

Reading Gasquet’s slider serve, de Loore lasered a forehand return that ricocheted off Herbert’s head. That knockdown blast broke Gasquet as Belgium went up 4-3. Some French fans were still whistling and jeering as de Loore stepped up to serve, stamping a love hold for 5-3.

Serving for the set, Bemelmans missed four first serves in a row to go down double break point. The left-hander pushed a volley long as France broke back for 5-all.

Bemelmans botched a volley then pushed a half volley into net ceding a pair of mini-breaks and 3-0 tie break lead to the host. Swiping a forehand volley, Herbert extended the lead to 5-0 as French captain Yannick Noah popped out of his chair to hurl a fist of support to his players.

When Bemelmans netted a forehand France, which was down 3-5 20 minutes earlier, completed the reversal snatching a two-sets to one lead.

France broke Bemelmans, who botched a smash on break point, for 4-3. Gasquet backed up the break at love.

French fans, who were often out-cheered in yesterday's opening singles match, made their presence felt erupting in a blue wave before Les Bleus served out the match in style putting France one win from the Cup.


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