Paris - France and Belgium reached the Davis Cup final by
quite different routes, but both captains face similar decisions ahead of the
draw at noon on Thursday in Lille.
The biggest question for both Yannick Noah, the French
skipper, and his Belgian counterpart, Johan van Herck, is the doubles pairing.
In the singles on Friday, Noah will no doubt open with
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ranked number 15 in the world) and Lucas Pouille (18).
Richard Gasquet (31) seems too far behind to risk.
In the doubles, Noah has generally preferred the specialist
pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who won the 2015 US Open
and the 2016 Wimbledon doubles together. But "P2H" has a back injury
which caused the pair to forfeit their last group match at ATP Finals in London
on November 16.
"All the players are in good shape, without
exception," Noah said.
Nevertheless, Julien Benneteau, a former French Open doubles
winner who is back to his best at the age of 35, could still rejoin Mahut in
the doubles on Saturday. They played together in the quarter-final in April.
Belgium will be led by seventh-ranked David Goffin, who
showed his form by beating Roger Federer to reach the final in London last
"France are clearly the favourites because they're
playing at home, have won the Davis Cup several times before and have a very
consistent team with very good players," Goffin said.
"Obviously being ranked in the top 10 I'm expected to
win two points in the singles," he added. "We're convinced we can win
otherwise we wouldn't step on the court."
Barring a major surprise, the other Belgian singles player
will be Steve Darcis. But who will partner Ruben Bemelmans (118) in the
Joris de Loore (276) missed the last match against Australia
because of a knee operation. Van Herck has named him in the squad but has kept
open the option of retaining Arthur de Greef (181).
The Belgians are trying to win their first Davis Cup title.
They reached the final in 2015 but lost to a Britain team containing Andy
Murray. They had to work hard to return this time.
France are trying to win their tenth silver salad bowl. They
had an easy route to their first final since losing to Federer, Stan Wawrinka
and the Swiss in 2014.
Belgium were taken to the third day in all of their matches.
They won 4-1 in Germany in the first round despite resting
Goffin, although he returned for the quarter-final victory over an Italy team
that was without Fabio Fognini.
In the semi-final, against Australia in Brussels, Belgium
entered the last day trailing but Goffin fought back to beat Nick Kyrgios
before Darcis beat Jordan Thompson in straight sets to stay perfect when
Meanwhile fortune favoured the French. They faced a Japan
team without Kei Nishikori, Britain without Murray and Serbia without Novak
Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki.
Yet that semi-final victory over Serbia, also in Lille, was
not without some strange elements which raise questions ahead of the final.
As he won the decisive rubber, Tsonga told Noah not to speak
to him during the changeovers. The captain spent the weekend alternating
between a strange lassitude, as he slumped in his courtside seat, and intense
self-criticism until his attitude was transformed on Sunday by victory.
At the press conference after the match he denied any
suggestions of a bad atmosphere within the squad.
"It's hard to know what is going on inside the
team," said Patrice Hagelauer, who once coached Noah and also the French
Davis Cup team.
He said that Cedric Pioline, a former French Davis Cup
player, had "also asked Noah to let him have some quiet moments".
Noah, who was captain in 1991-92 and 1995-98 says he is
"improved" for his third stint, which began in 2015.
Asked whether he would continue, he added another layer of
mystery, saying: "I have no certainty about anything."