If events based on hazy geographical regions, choreographed dance routines, and (albeit iconic) pensioners sitting courtside looking more uncomfortable than if they were on the 7:53 to Charing Cross float your boat – then Laver Cup’s the one for you. JAbet will leave that nonsense to the Moet and Prawn Sandwich brigade, real aficionados know international men’s tennis means Davis Cup, and only Davis Cup. Allez Coupe Davis!
Tomorrow through Sunday 28,000 fans will pack into Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy to see Tennis Goliath France square off against David & his Belgian cohorts in this year’s Final.
Sleeping Giant France will be eyeing their 10th title (although currently on a 16-year drought), the little brothers next door are after their 1st. In a season plagued with injuries to the sport’s stars, France have been able to take advantage of their strength in depth. In this year’s run they’ve blitzed through Nishikori-less Japan, Murray-less Britain and finally a Djokovic-less Serbia, all with relative ease. Have the stars aligned for Yannick Noah’s men? Or considering they haven’t beaten a particularly decent side since their 2014 semi final win over the Czechs, does the national team mirror the inability of stars and flat-track bullies Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet to get it done against the very best?
Two men who will be looking to prove this latter theory correct will be man of the hour David Goffin and ‘Mr Davis Cup’ Steve Darcis. Facing a rockier path, the Belgians, firstly (missing Goffin!) beat a strong German team away, Darcis remarkably trumping both Zverev and Kohlschreiber. Goffin returned and impressed vs Italy, before they faced a very fancied Australian team in what has to be tie of the year. Kyrgios needed his absolute best to get through a 5 set war over an inspired Darcis, but from 2-1 down the Belgians really shone – Goffin played one of the matches of his career to outlast NK before Darcis yet again won the deciding rubber, this time vs Jordan Thompson.
Federer was quoted this week stating the French are rightfully favourites as Goffin will surely have to win both his rubbers for Belgium to have a chance. It’s hard to disagree. With former world no 1s Mahut & Hughes-Herbert Les Blues have an almost certain point in the doubles vs the unheralded duo of Bemelmans & De Loore. The question is, can Goffin & Darcis take 3 singles points between them?
After a turbulent summer Goffin has finished the season on a high, taking back to back titles before becoming one of few players to defeat Federer & Nadal in the same week. Combined with the win over NK surely this dispels the oft-touted notion that Goffin can’t cut the mustard vs the greats. Winning 14 of his last 15 DC matches, and with 3 wins just last week on a fast hardcourt at the ATP World Finals, Goffin will go off as favourite vs both Tsonga & Pouille. Tsonga’s matchups vs Goffin & Darcis must be why the French have elected for hard (both previous ties at this stadium were on clay). Court speed of course can be a huge factor (the Belgians were certainly assisted by a sandpit paced clay court vs the Aussies), and the French will request as quick as possible. Memories of the ice fast Paris Masters in 2010 where Michael Llodra’s serve & volley game was almost unplayable spring to mind.
Similarly to his compatriot, Darcis surely comes into this weekend with confidence a plenty. Having played such a pivotal role in getting his nation to the final, and with considerably lower singles ranking than the rest, he really has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Goffin & Darcis are Belgium’s only 2 top 100 players, and they will both need to be at their absolute best for the Belgians to have a shot.
Being no 1 & 2 for a country with 10 top-100 players, you’d also expect confidence to be of no issue for Tsonga & Pouille, and at first glance, with 7 titles between them, they both seem to have had an impressive 2017. However, all 7 trophies came at 250 level, and both have shown some worrying frailties at their biggest moments. Jo Willy had a very disappointing time at the slams this year losing 1st rd RG, 2nd rd USO, and 3rd rd Wimbledon. His Masters campaigns were even worse, incredibly not once progressing past a 2nd rd. Pouille has shown patches of brilliance but it’s hard to ignore the breakdown vs an injured Schwartzman in the USO 4th rd (with a wide-open quarter ahead), not taking his match points vs Nadal in Beijing, nor his loss to Lajovic in the DC semis. French fans must be praying that another of their prodigies doesn’t fall into the mercurial but frail category.
With Tsonga’s years of being a threat at Slams dwindling, will he grasp what is surely one of his final chances for glory on the biggest stage? Will Pouille step up and become the reliable big game star the French have so desperately lacked? Or will the Belgians capitalise on their once in a generation player and break their DC duck? We can’t wait to find out, roll on tomorrow.