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.”