ATP Tour

Gasquet, Herbert give France Davis Cup lead

Richard Gasquet (Getty Images)
Richard Gasquet (Getty Images)

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 crowd.

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 set.

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)

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