LILLE, France (AP) France and Serbia are leveled at 1-1 in their Davis Cup semifinal after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dispatched 22-year-old debutant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Friday following Lucas Pouille’s shock defeat in the opening singles match.
In the absence of Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic, the French were expected to enjoy a calm weekend in the northern city of Lille. But Dusan Lajovic made the most of Pouille’s inconsistent display to give Serbia a 1-0 lead on the red clay of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium.
The 80th-ranked Lajovic made a strong start and capitalized on Pouille’s mistakes to prevail 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). The Frenchman never found the right tempo, made wrong tactical choices, and hit a total of 70 unforced errors.
Playing with the French Davis Cup team for the first time this season, Tsonga made a successful return in the team competition and won 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.
In the other semifinal in Brussels, David Goffin produced a hard-fought win against Australian John Millman to earn the hosts an early lead. Goffin won a tight baseline battle that lasted 3 and 1/2 hours against Millman, triumphing 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to extend his Davis Cup record to 14 wins from 15 matches.
Australia, a 28-time champion, is chasing a spot in the final for the first time since it won the title in 2003, while Belgium is trying to reach the final for only the third time.
“Physically I’m not at my best, but I knew for the team and the fans that I had to leave my heart out on the court,” said Goffin, who has been hampered by a knee injury recently. “To give one point to your country is the best feeling you can have.”
Both semifinals are played on clay.
In Lille, the 22nd-ranked Pouille dropped his serve immediately and looked nervous throughout the first set wrapped up by Lajovic in 25 minutes.
The Serbian took all the risks and reduced Pouille to a spectator’s role with deep groundstrokes and kicked serves that caught his opponent out.
“The biggest advantage for me was to win the first set,” Lajovic said. “It’s always important in Davis Cup.”
Lajovic had cramps in his right foot towards the end of the fourth set and needed some help from Serbia player and captain Nenad Zimonjic to put his shoe back on after hitting an overhead winner for a 5-4 lead in the fourth-set tiebreaker.
“It would have been extremely difficult to play five sets,” Lajovic said.
Pouille was impatient too often, trying to shorten the points instead of making his opponent run. The Frenchman upped his game to level at one set apiece and hit some beautiful points, including an overhead after chasing a drop shot that prompted loud cheers in the stands.
But the relief did not last. The Frenchman’s inconsistent serve came back to haunt him in the last two sets and Lajovic sealed the match at the net with a backhand volley, raising both arms in triumph.
Belgium’s Arthur de Greef and Ruben Bemelmans are expected to team up against Australians John Peers and Jordan Thompson in Saturday’s doubles, with French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut facing Filip Krajinovic and Zimonjic in Lille.