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France qualifies for Davis Cup final

September 13, 2014

PARIS (AP) — Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet put France back in the Davis Cup final by winning the doubles and ending the two-year reign of the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Tsonga and Gasquet, who won their singles on Friday, gave Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek a rare doubles defeat in Davis Cup, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1 at Roland Garros.

France, with an unassailable 3-0 lead, made the final for the first time since 2010. It won the last of its nine cups in 2001.

The defending champion Czechs needed to win the doubles to keep alive their chances of reaching a third straight final, but Stepanek played with an apparent right hip injury that required frequent treatment, and Berdych, who lost his singles to Gasquet, struggled with consistency.

“In the beginning of the second set I felt something in my lower back, I did not pay much attention to it, but with the time spent on the court it was getting worse and worse, and at the end of the second set I was very limited in my movements,” said Stepanek, who was unable to sit during the news conference.

“In normal circumstances I would have retired, but I believed I had to somehow finish the match.”

Both captains amended their pairings before the match, but Berdych and Stepanek could not extend their winning partnership, as they were handed only their second loss in 17 doubles in the competition, the last occasion to Spain in the 2009 final.

France will either play the final away to Italy or at home against Switzerland. The Swiss lead 2-1 and the French players are already relishing the prospect of taking om Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka from Nov. 21-23.

“To host such players is just fabulous,” Gasquet said. “I know that Federer has yet to win the Davis Cup, but he has won 17 Grand Slam titles. He can leave us the Davis Cup.”

Berdych, who struggled to adjust to clay after reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals last week, praised France.

“The guy from the French team that played the most in Paris (Gael Monfils), who should play on clay for them, did not even step out on the court,” he said. “Without him, they achieved a great result. It just shows how difficult the Davis Cup is. We did not have as many options as them, that was the difference.”

France captain Arnaud Clement admitted he was fortunate to have in-form players available.

“Today, I had three possible teams, and all of them were capable of winning this match,” he said.

The French got off to a strong start on center court, breaking in the second game when Gasquet fired a shot at Berdych’s feet. They quickly led 4-1 but dropped three consecutive games as Stepanek raised his level.

In the tiebreak, Gasquet unleashed a superb backhand pass to put the French 4-2 ahead, but the the Czechs regained momentum as they won five straight points to close out the set.

The French had to dig deep to stave off seven break points early in the second set, and went a break up at 3-2 off Stepanek’s serve when Tsonga hit a backhand crosscourt winner.

Stepanek and Berdych left the court with the French up 5-4, for a medical timeout. They were greeted with jeers and whistles when they returned after a nearly 10-minute break. Tsonga looked unfazed and held his serve, wrapping up the set with an ace to level the set score.

Berdych dropped his focus as he served two consecutive double faults in the error-riddled next game to hand the French a break. The tall Czech was again at fault when he missed a backhand volley on Stepanek’s serve, with their opponents moving up 3-0.

The twists and turns continued as the Czechs recovered, despite more treatment for Stepanek, who was in obvious pain. They won three straight games to lead 5-4, then failed to hold on to a 4-2 lead in the tiebreak. Gasquet fired a dazzling pass down the line to seal the set, raising his arms in triumph to the delight of the legion of French fans.

Stepanek could hardly move in the fourth set, and the French wrapped it up decisively.

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