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Pouille to lead France in Davis Cup final against Croatia

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PARIS — Lucas Pouille will lead France in the Davis Cup final against Croatia this month as the hosts bid to win successive titles.

Pouille was the highest-ranked player among Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jeremy Chardy, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the team picked by captain Yannick Noah on Tuesday

Pouille wrapped up France’s 10th Davis title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium in the final.

France’s top player, the 26th-ranked Richard Gasquet, announced his withdrawal on Monday because of a groin injury.

In the absence of Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon, Pouille is the best ranked French player at No. 32. Tsonga has been sidelined by a knee injury for most of the season and dropped to 261st.

On paper, the Croats are favorites with No. 7-ranked Marin Cilic and No. 12 Borna Coric.

But Noah said he was unfazed by statistics.

“The only thing I know is that our goal is to win against the Croats,” Noah said. “The mindset, the ability to adapt to clay, and the commitment to Davis Cup are what really matters.”

Like last year, the final will be at Pierre Mauroy Stadium in the northern city of Lille from Nov. 23-25 under a retractable roof.

Noah has summoned his players for a training camp nearby outside the city.

“It’s easier to work as a group away from all the excitement,” he said.

Pouille, Tsonga, and Chardy have already started training. Herbert and Mahut will join them after playing doubles at the ATP Finals in London. The pair lost its first group match and Mahut picked up a slight ankle injury after he chased down a ball close to the advertising boards and fell into the line judge’s chair. Noah said he would call Julien Benneteau as a replacement for Mahut if he can’t play in the final.

Noah, who guided France to Davis Cup titles in 1991, 1996, and 2017, will step down after the final, and Amelie Mauresmo will take over.

“I’m very excited,” the former French Open champion said. “It’s been two months that we have been preparing for this last final with my staff. I’m both motivated and excited.”

Benedetti wins 12th stage; Polanc takes Giro lead

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PINEROLO, Italy (AP) Cesare Benedetti won the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday for his first victory as a professional while Jan Polanc took the overall leader’s pink jersey from UAE Emirates teammate Valerio Conti.

Benedetti, an Italian with the Bora team who has been a support rider for his entire career, was part of an early breakaway then accelerated from a select group of riders in a sprint finish.

“I’ve worked a lot for the others in the past but today I got my opportunity,” Benedetti said. “I’m not (usually) a winner.”

Benedetti required 3 hours, 41 minutes to complete the 158-kilometer (98-mile) leg from Cuneo to Pinerolo, which featured one major climb and another shorter but steeper ascent just before the finish.

Damiano Caruso crossed second and Eddie Dunbar came third, each with the same time as Benedetti. Polanc, a Slovenian who was also in the breakaway, finished 25 seconds behind.

In the overall standings, Polanc leads Primoz Roglic by 4 minutes, 7 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali, one of the pre-race favorites, is fifth overall, 5:51 behind.

“It was a team tactic that I would go in the breakaway so we could have a better control over the race,” Polanc said. “It was also a way to keep the pink jersey in the team.”

Mikel Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez attacked on the first-category climb to Montoso and gained about 30 seconds on the other overall favorites.

Before the stage began, sprinters Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani withdrew from the race. Ewan won two stages, including the 11th leg a day earlier, while Viviani posted three second-place finishes.

Stage 13 on Friday is one of the race’s toughest, with two category one climbs and one category ascent, along with an uphill finish at the end of the 196-kilometer leg from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale.

The Giro ends June 2 in Verona.

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Tsonga rallies past qualifier to reach quarterfinals in Lyon

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LYON, France (AP) Former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rallied past Canadian qualifier Steven Diez on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals and extend his perfect record at the Lyon Open.

Tsonga, the 2017 champion, came within two points of losing but finally prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on his sixth match point after 2 hours, 42 minutes.

The clay-court event serves as a warmup for the French Open, which starts Sunday in Paris.

“It was good for me to play a long match like this,” Tsonga said. “I haven’t played a match this long for a while. I am not playing my best level, but I am giving everything mentally and that gives me confidence.”

Tsonga will next take on top-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat lucky loser Tristan Lamasine 7-5, 7-5.

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