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.

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.