Croatia ease to 2-0 lead over France in Davis Cup final

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LILLE, France — Croatia is on the verge of its second Davis Cup crown after Borna Coric and Marin Cilic dispatched their France rivals in the opening singles of the final on Friday.

Croatia, which won its sole title in 2005, leads 2-0 and just needs one more point to depose the defending champions in northern France this weekend.

The Croatians clearly have the best players, who have not lost away from home since 2015. History also plays in their favor: Since Australia in 1939, no team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a final.

A glimmer of hope remains for the hosts, though, with Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The French pair reached the final at the ATP Finals last week and is slightly favored against Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig in Saturday’s doubles.

After Coric dismantled Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 7-5, 6-4, the seventh-ranked Cilic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 on the indoor clay court at Pierre Mauroy Stadium.

France hoped the slow surface would be a problem for Cilic and Coric, who had to quickly adapt to clay after playing last week on a hard court at the ATP Finals in London. Cilic played in the elite event, while Coric practiced as a reserve.

But the Croats were unfazed and excelled in front of a hostile crowd.

Tsonga faced an onslaught from Cilic in the opening set and had no answers.

Cilic won his first three service games at love, broke for 4-2 after Tsonga made a couple of backhand errors, and held at love again to seal the opener.

The Frenchman, who was sidelined for seven months until September because of a knee injury, played too short when not hitting too long, and exposed himself to Cilic’s ferocious forehand attacks.

In a tight second set, Cilic coped with the pressure to save two break points in the eighth game, and Tsonga cracked with unforced errors. A backhand wide handed Cilic a 6-5 lead and the former U.S. Open champion wrapped up the set at love on serve.

He broke again for 3-2 in the third set after a Tsonga double fault, and held on.

Earlier, the 12th-ranked Coric was flawless.

Chardy was picked by captain Yannick Noah ahead of 2017 star Lucas Pouille to play in his first Davis Cup final. He was overwhelmed by Coric’s deep groundstrokes in the first set, dropping 14 consecutive points at one point to trail 4-0.

The Frenchman changed his strategy in the second set and tried to force Coric into longer rallies but failed to convert his rare chances. Despite vociferous support from the crowd which often showed no respect for Coric by applauding his first service errors, Chardy missed two break points in the fourth game.

Coric broke for 6-5 after hitting a superb lob that Chardy could not return, followed by a pin-point forehand return that pushed the Frenchman to commit a mistake.

In the last set, Coric earned another break in the third game. After getting his legs massaged by Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan, he briefly left the court after the seventh game for treatment but did not look hampered once he returned.

Croatia is trying to win its second Davis Cup title in its third final, while defending champion France is bidding for an 11th title.