AP Photo

France wins doubles to lead Belgium 2-1 in Davis Cup final

Leave a comment

LILLE, France (AP) Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to give France a 2-1 lead over Belgium in the Davis Cup final on Saturday.

Gasquet and Herbert, who had never played together before, put France one win away from a 10th Davis Cup title. Belgium, in the final for the second time in three years, is seeking its first title.

In the northern city of Lille, the unexperienced French pair came out on top of a tense match with many ups and downs.

In Sunday’s first reverse singles, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can clinch the final for France with victory over Belgium’s top player David Goffin. If Tsonga fails, the tie will be decided in the final reverse singles between Frenchman Lucas Pouille and Steve Darcis.

Despite their lack of practice and matches together, Gasquet and Herbert got off to a flying start on the indoor hard court at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.

Gasquet executed perfect passing shots from both sides and Herbert had a dominant presence at the net as the French pair broke for a 2-0 lead. A brilliant crosscourt forehand winner from Gasquet sealed another break for the hosts in the fourth game, with Goffin and Darcis looking ashen-faced in the stands.

Trailing 5-0, the Belgians saved two set points to finally hold their serve, but the respite was short lived as Gasquet served out the set in the next game.

A poor service game from Herbert put the Belgian pair back in the match early in the second set, though, when the doubles specialist hit a double fault and sent a volley long to hand their rivals a 3-1 lead. The hosts broke back but the French could not build on the momentum as their rivals finally got in the swing. De Loore fired a superb forehand passing shot in the next game and Gasquet dropped his serve after double faulting on break point. Bemelmans served out the set and the Belgian pair celebrated with a chest bump.

“They (Gasquet and Herbert) were on the brink of collapse,” said France captain Yannick Noah. “In the end, it came down to just one or two points, and being focused.”

The French were under pressure early in the third set and fought hard to fend off four break points in their first three service games. They finally cracked in the seventh game when De Loore unleashed a forehand return straight into Herbert’s head to seal the break as he knocked the Frenchman to the ground.

Herbert quickly recovered as nervousness took hold of Bemelmans in the closing games of the set, with several misses on important points. The French pair made the most of his errors and leveled at 5-5 to the delight of the raucous home crowd with a break on his serve, before dominating the tiebreaker.

De Loore received treatment on his left foot before the start of a tense fourth set. A shaky Herbert hit two consecutive double faults to find himself trailing 15-40 on his serve in the sixth game, but the French managed to hold and made the decisive break for a 4-3 lead following another big mistake from Bemelmans, who buried a smash into the bottom of the net.

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

AP Images
Leave a comment

HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.

Magdalena shows form on grass in Birmingham

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BIRMINGHAM, England — Magdalena Rybarikova, who climbed almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, showed she might rise even further after rallying against Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals in Birmingham.

The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys. The range of shots worked excellently on the lush surface at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic and helped her take control midway through the second set.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009.

In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic.

“I started to play very well,” Rybarikova said of her improvement from the fourth game of the second set against Mladenovic. “She served great to begin with and I struggled with my returns, but I kept fighting and my game improved a lot.

“I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set.

“That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that. This court here really suits my game.”

At the changeover in the fifth game of the second set, Mladenovic’s morale appeared to plunge, and afterward her error ratio rose sharply with her standard dropping significantly.

The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes, and long before the end the outcome had ceased to be in doubt.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.