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Chardy to open for France against Croatia in Davis Cup final

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LILLE, France — With no player standing out as a clear leader, France captain Yannick Noah chose Jeremy Chardy ahead of Lucas Pouille for the opening match of the Davis Cup final against Croatia.

The 40th-ranked Chardy, in the team only after Richard Gasquet withdrew injured, will lead defending champion France against Borna Coric on indoor clay at Pierre Mauroy Stadium on Friday.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who’s missed most of the year through injury and dropped to 259th in the rankings, will play Marin Cilic, Croatia’s top player, in the second singles.

Pouille sealed France’s victory over Belgium in last year’s final and was widely expected to be playing again.

Noah explained after the draw on Thursday, “I have the feeling that in Davis Cup the one who attacks generally wins. And Jeremy is a terrific attacking player.”

Although he’s in his first Davis Cup final, Chardy has won all three of his previous rubbers on indoor clay, and has a 2-1 record against Coric.

“I did not feel I’m the favorite,” the 12th-ranked Coric said. “It’s 50-50. I’ve lost twice against Chardy. The last time on clay.”

It’s the second consecutive year Noah has taken a gamble in the final. Last year, he fielded an inexperienced pair in doubles and was rewarded by a victory that put France one point away from the title.

“It’s never easy to make choices,” Noah said. “This one was very difficult, and subtle. The strength in this team is that we have three players capable of playing in singles.”

Noah took advantage of a new rule this year increasing the size of teams from four to five players, giving captains more leeway in selection. He said Pouille, who was born close to Lille, will be ready to play on Sunday if needed.

“Honestly, I was not surprised,” Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan said of Noah’s nominations. “I know Yannick can sometimes pull a joker out of his pocket and I thought Chardy could be his joker this weekend.”

Tsonga appears to be set up for a thrashing from Cilic.

Cilic qualified for the eight-man ATP Finals this month, while Tsonga returned to competitive tennis only in September after a seven-month absence due to a knee injury. But Noah said he has been impressed by Tsonga’s form during France’s training camp.

Tsonga said the prospect of playing in the final gave him an extra motivation to come back.

“When I was struggling, the only way to hang on was to think about the fabulous moments which deserve our sacrifices,” Tsonga said. “When I decided to return it was, among other things, because of the Davis Cup.”

Cilic praised the quality of the clay court under the roof of Lille’s soccer stadium but complained about the lightning and the uneven temperature across the arena.

“The light is not good at all,” he said. “It’s difficult to see in the corners.”

Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who reached the final at the ATP Finals, are scheduled to face Croatian pair Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig in Saturday’s doubles.

In Sunday’s reverse singles, Chardy is set to face Cilic, and Tsonga to take on Coric.

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

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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

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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.