AP Images

Yannick Noah taking no chances ahead of Davis Cup final

Leave a comment

PARIS — Laid-back in everyday life, Yannick Noah is meticulous when it comes to being a tennis coach.

So over the last 10 days, the France captain has been paying close attention to anything that could derail his team’s chances of winning an 11th Davis Cup title against Croatia this weekend.

“The most important thing was to spend as much time as possible together thinking about this final,” said Noah, who summoned his players for a demanding training camp in northern France about two weeks ahead of the final.

“We could have imagined a training camp in Paris. Once the day is over, everybody gets back home,” Noah said. “In fact, you lose your focus. Here, as soon as we woke up, we were in the final. When we started to run in the morning, it was still dark, but we were already in the final. During our meals, we thought about the final.”

Noah guided France to Davis Cup titles in 1991, 1996 and 2017, but he will step down after this weekend and Amelie Mauresmo will take over.

Since he returned to captain France in 2016, Noah has been rewarded with success. Despite a drop in individual performances, Noah’s players have reached the Davis Cup semifinals every year during his most recent stint, losing only once to Croatia in 2016. They won the title against Belgium last year and now have the chance to conquer the last final played in its traditional format. Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.

“We’ve got a unique chance, which will never happen again, to play a Davis Cup final at home,” Noah said. “We fought for this chance throughout the year. Not only for the team, but also for the event. Most of us have been obsessed by (this final). We want to make sure we are on top of all the things that can be controlled. Then there will be the craziness of the match.”

The Croats are favored to claim a second title after their team became the first unseeded nation to win the 2005 Davis Cup by defeating Slovakia.

While French players have been struggling individually over the last 12 months – Lucas Pouille is the best ranked Frenchman in Noah’s team at No. 32 – Croatia will be led by seventh-ranked Marin Cilic, who qualified for the ATP Finals this month after a consistent season. In singles, Cilic will be backed by No. 12 Borna Coric.

The final will be played on clay under the retractable roof of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Lille and Cilic might struggle to adapt to the slow surface, having competed on hard court last week in London.

“I will be ready,” Cilic said. “We had Davis Cup ties already on clay immediately after hard court tournaments. I believe I’m going to be fine, adjusting my play, a bit more of sliding, running. The conditions (on) indoor clay are slightly faster than outdoor clay. I will be fine.”

Pouille wrapped up France’s 10th Davis Cup title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium in the final. In the absence of Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon, he will play in singles while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has been sidelined with a knee injury for most of the season, is likely to be used as France’s No. 2. Noah has also the option of fielding Jeremy Chardy.

In doubles, France has the better team with French Open champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who reached the final at the ATP Finals.

This year’s Davis Cup final has a familiar ring to it, at least for fans of soccer. France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final in July.

Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan said his team did not receive any encouraging messages from the country’s soccer players but added “they will be happy if we (avenge) the World Cup final.”

Djokovic wins World Sportsman of the Year at Laureus World Sports Awards

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONACO  — Novak Djokovic, Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn and the France national soccer team were among the winners at the Laureus World Sports Awards, with Woods claiming the Comeback Award 19 years after he was first recognized.

Djokovic matched Usain Bolt’s record by being named World Sportsman of the Year for the fourth time after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He also earned the honor in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Woods, who won the inaugural World Sportsman of the Year award in 2000, won the Tour Championship in September for his 80th PGA Tour title and his first since August 2013.

Vonn, who retired during the recent Alpine skiing world championships , took home the Spirit of Sport Award, which is given to an athlete for relentless dedication to his or her career, and France was honored for winning the World Cup in July.

Simone Biles was named World Sportswoman of the Year for winning four gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the gymnastics world championships. Naomi Osaka won the Breakthrough Award for winning the U.S. Open and Chloe Kim was named the World Action Sportsperson of the Year.

The awards were given in recognition of outstanding sports performance in 2018.

Wawrinka loses to Monfils in first final since knee surgeries

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka’s rebuilt knee couldn’t quite carry him to the title in Rotterdam on Sunday.

Wawrinka lost his first final since his comeback a year ago from left knee surgeries, succumbing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to Gael Monfils of France at the ABN AMRO World Tournament.

It was the Frenchman’s eighth career title.

“I tried a couple of times here. I lost the final in 2016,” Monfils told Dutch national broadcaster NOS courtside. He said it was special to win a tournament that his idol, Arthur Ashe, also won. Ashe won back-to-back titles in Rotterdam in 1975 and ’76.

Unseeded Wawrinka reached the final by beating top-seeded Kei Nishikori in three sets on Saturday.

But the Swiss finally ran out of steam in the final set as Monfils stepped up his game.

“In the third set I was a little bit more aggressive and I go a bit more for my shots, I served bigger and that helped me a lot,” Monfils said.

Wawrinka was going for his 17th career title and second in Rotterdam, after winning in 2015.

It was his first final since the 2017 French Open, where he previously met Monfils in the fourth round.

Monfils also needed three sets to overcome fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals, but outlasted Wawrinka in a match that took 1 hour, 44 minutes.

After they shared the first two sets, Monfils was more consistent than Wawrinka in the decisive third.

Already trailing 4-2, Wawrinka hit three unforced errors to lose the seventh game and allow Monfils to serve out the match.