Lille - France
captain Yannick Noah's gamble in pairing Richard Gasquet and
Pierre-Hugues Herbert together for the first time paid off on Saturday
as the duo gave France a 2-1 lead over Belgium in the Davis Cup final.
Gasquet and Herbert defeated Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore 6-1,
3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 to leave the hosts requiring just one point from
Sunday's closing two singles.
"It's great they won because my head was on the line!" smiled Noah.
"I thought they'd complement each other technically. There were
obviously mistakes but I found that they were helping each other out.
"Their style of play gelled well, with Richard very solid at the back and on return, and Pierre-Hugues strong in the volleys."
He added: "Sometimes you have to take difficult decisions and this one was very difficult."
Gasquet commented: "We knew we'd be at a good level tennis-wise but above all we had to be strong and balanced mentally."
Belgium's hopes of claiming a first title in the venerable
competition now rest with their in-form number one David Goffin denying
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Sunday's opening singles.
"That's going to be a massive match," predicted Noah.
"With France leading 2-1, the two countries' number one players, I've thought about this for a long time."
If Goffin keeps the tie alive it will then go down to the fifth and
closing rubber between Lucas Pouille or Gasquet and Belgium's Davis Cup
specialist Steve Darcis.
Belgium's captain Johan Van Herck is not giving up hope of a closing-day comeback.
"We've shown that we know how to fight as a team. We've got two great cards to play tomorrow," he said.
Pouille lost Friday's opening match to world number seven Goffin
before Tsonga levelled the match with a comprehensive defeat of Darcis.
Gasquet and Herbert put France, seeking their first title since 2001,
in pole position after a gruelling three hours and three minutes on
court at Lille's Stade Pierre-Mauroy in front of a deafening 25 000
Gasquet and Herbert reeled off the first set in half an hour, before a
lacklustre service game from Herbert put Belgium 3-1 up in the second
Bemelmans, ranked 118th in the world, and the 276th-ranked De Loore
duly levelled the encounter, before taking a 4-3 lead in the third set
when breaking Gasquet's serve after De Loore drilled a forehand at
Herbert's head, leaving him dazed.
But lifted by their home fans, Gasquet and Herbert powered back to
take that on a tiebreak before getting the all important break in the
fourth set for a potentially decisive win.
Herbert, selected over his regular doubles partner Nicolas Mahut, said he took the change in his partner in his stride.
"I know I'm adaptable and we play well together.
"Richie is a reliable player who barely ever misses a return."
Gasquet added: "We produced a great tie-break... We knew that was going to be decisive, it was important to win that."
Goffin and Tsonga are due on court for Sunday's climax from 14:30 SA time.
Davis Cup final results on Saturday:
France 2 Belgium 1
Richard Gasquet/Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) bt Ruben Bemelmans/Joris de Loore (BEL) 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4,
Played on Friday
David Goffin (BEL) bt Lucas Pouille (FRA) 7-5, 6-3, 6-1
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) bt Steve Darcis (BEL) 6-3, 6-2, 6-1,
Playing on Sunday (from 14:30 SA time)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v David Goffin (BEL)
Lucas Pouille (FRA) v Steve Darcis (BEL)