Spain dumped out Davis Cup
Spain's Fernando Verdasco (File)
Clermont Ferrand - France beat two-time defending champion Spain for the first time since 1923 in the Davis Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau defeated Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5) in just over three hours to secure an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
"It's magical," France captain Guy Forget told France 3 television. "They pulled for each other. I hope it's just the start of a long story for that squad."
French players waved a French flag after the doubles match and huddled with arms around each other to sing the Marseillaise, the France national anthem, with the crowd.
France will play its first semi-finals since 2004 at home in September against either Russia or Argentina. Argentina led 2-1 in Moscow.
"I hope they'll have the same self-belief in September," Forget said about his players. "Unfortunately we don't play in 15 days. I wish we could. But maybe we'll have Jo-Wilfried (Tsonga) and Richard (Gasquet) back. And Gilles (Simon) will be in a better shape. Who knows?"
Spain was again without Wimbledon champion and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who pulled out of the team to rest his sore knees, while France was missing its best player, injured No. 11 Tsonga.
Llodra and Benneteau, playing only their second cup doubles together though they've won two ATP titles, were almost flawless in the first two sets, while Verdasco and Lopez, 6-3 in the cup as a pair, struggled badly for coordination.
Lopez hit a double fault to start his first service game. He was then hampered by Verdasco's positioning at the net and netted a weak volley, then Llodra hit a winning pass straight up the middle.
Lopez was again broken at 4-1 when Benneteau fired a return winner past Verdasco.
Llodra hit a backhand volley to grab the first set for France.
France kept the pressure on Spain in the second set, taking Verdasco's serve in the opening game as the Spanish lefty sent a forehand into the net.
Two straight double faults from Lopez in the seventh game gave France two break chances and a volley netted by Lopez helped France convert the second for a 5-2 lead.
France went two sets up on a volley from Llodra as a dejected Verdasco banged the handle of his racket against his chest.
Things did not look good for Spain in the third set after Lopez dropped serve in the opening game.
"At 6-1, 6-2 and a break up, I thought: That's not possible, that's too nice," Forget said. "And (Spain) started playing better."
The Spaniards finally raised their level in the eighth game. After Lopez had hit a return winner to create two break chances, Benneteau netted a backhand volley to drop serve, allowing Spain to rally at 4-4.
In the tiebreaker, Verdasco saved a match point at 6-5 with a forehand winner. A strong pass from Lopez led Benneteau to volley wide and lose the tiebreaker. Lopez leaped into the air after winning the third set.
But in the final tiebreaker, Verdasco double-faulted at 3-2 to hand France a mini-break.
Llodra slammed a service winner for a 6-3 lead, and France needed all three match points to convert with a winning Llodra volley.
"We got off to a great start," Benneteau told France 3 television. "We played at an unbelievable level for two sets and a half. But it's the doubles and anything can turn around the match. We had a match point but didn't convert it. Yet, we kept playing solidly until the end."
On Friday, Gael Monfils and Llodra respectively defeated David Ferrer and Verdasco in the opening singles.
"My legs felt heavy this morning," Llodra told TV. "But when you wear the jersey of the France team, you can't afford to feel sorry for yourself. Today, I felt great when serving."