16.09.2016 - 18.09.2016
Under the captaincy of Yannick Noah, France aim to reach their second Davis Cup final in three years but face a tough battle against their perennial enemy – injury – as well as a strong Croatian side as they travel to Zadar for the semifinals of the 2016 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
The French side was originally tapped to be led by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils but both have withdrawn due to injury, leaving the out-of-form Richard Gasquet and the relatively untried Lucas Pouille at the head of the side alongside singles/doubles dual threats Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
The Croatian squad is led by 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, the current world no. 11 and a stalwart for his nation, alongside youthful talent Borna Coric, joined by veteran Ivan Dodig and doubles player Marin Draganja.
Team Croatia: Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Ivan Dodig, Marin Draganja, Zeljko Krajan (captain)
Team France: Richard Gasquet, Lucas Pouille, Nicolas Mahut, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Yannick Noah (captain)
With the withdrawals of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the in-form US Open semifinalist Gael Monfils, what looked likely to be a straightforward victory for France has become a much more intriguing tie in potentia.
France, the great underachievers of Davis Cup, are trying to return to the final they played most recently in 2014 when they lost to Switzerland, but despite the fact they can still boast three members of their team ranked inside the top 100, their position looks a little more precarious. World no. 17 Gasquet is 14-10 in Davis Cup singles and hasn’t been in great form of late: Struggling with an ongoing back problem, he has played just three events since retiring in the fourth round of Wimbledon and lost in the first round of the US Open. Lucas Pouille is likely to play the second singles match and while he is on great form – up to world no. 18 after stunning Rafael Nadal to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open – he is an untried quantity in Davis Cup, having played just one rubber in the past.
France do have the benefit of a world-class doubles team in Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who have won two Grand Slams in the last two years, and both of whom can be options in singles – Mahut is a veteran inside the world’s top 50 in singles, while Herbert is better than his current ranking of world no. 112.
Croatia are a little more limited in their options, with Marin Cilic and Borna Coric pretty much guaranteed to play the singles. Cilic is a very experienced player with a 25-15 record in Davis Cup singles and recently won the Cincinnati Masters, although he rather flopped out of the US Open afterwards, but Coric has been struggling with knee problems recently and his fitness over five sets will be a concern. If Cilic is healthy, he should find himself doing triple duty and teaming up with good friend Ivan Dodig – the two have had good results before in Davis Cup – for what could be a pivotal doubles rubber.
Davis Cup format
Davis Cup ties are played according to a unique format developed over the 116 years the competition has been played.
Each Davis Cup tie consists of five rubbers: Two singles matches played on Friday followed by a doubles match on Saturday, with the reverse singles pairings being played on Sunday.
Player nominations can be changed up until an hour before the start of play.
One nation hosts the tie, with the choice of ground decided by where the two competing teams played last time. France hosted Croatia in Metz the last time the two nations met in 2004, so it’s Croatia’s turn to host and they have opted for the indoor hard courts of the Kresimir Cosic Hall in Zadar.
The winner of the Croatia vs France semifinal clash will face either Great Britain or Argentina in the Davis Cup final, which will be played 25-27 November 2016.
Head to head: Croatia vs France 0-1
The only meeting between France and Croatia came 12 years ago in Metz when a French team headlined by Arnaud Clement and Nicolas Escude defeated a Croatian side headed by Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic.
That was a long time ago and no survivors from either team remain on the bench for this 2016 semifinal clash (Clement has had a spot at captaincy, but was ditched in favour of Noah after disappointing results). Champions in 2005, Croatia haven’t made it back to the finals since, mainly because they have only really had one stable top-20 player in Cilic since the retirement of Ljubicic, but with the rise of young Borna Coric there is definite hope of a stronger Croatian side – Coric was instrumental in Croatia’s 3-2 victory over 2015 runners-up Belgium in the first round and in their comeback from 0-2 down against the USA in Portland in the quarterfinals, when Cilic teamed up with Ivan Dodig in doubles to defeat the Bryan brothers in four sets before Cilic and Coric recorded singles victories over John Isner and Jack Sock on the Sunday.
France, meanwhile, are generally pegged as underachievers where Davis Cup is concerned – perhaps unfairly, but it does beggar belief that a nation who boast both all-time talents like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet and strength in depth that would be the envy of many other countries, with Gilles Simon, Benoit Paire, Julien Benneteau and Jeremy Chardy among their other top players, should have failed to win a Davis Cup title over the last 15 years (their last triumph came in 2001). France have been runners-up three times in that time span – to Russia in 2002, Serbia in 2010 and Switzerland in 2014 – and have handed the reins to France’s last Grand Slam champion, Yannick Noah for their 2016 tilt. So far it has been plain sailing for France, who beat an outmatched Canadian side missing Milos Raonic 5-0 in Guadeloupe in the first round and a Czech Republic side missing Tomas Berdych 3-1 to reach the semifinals once more.
Day 2 (Saturday 17 September): Play starts 3pm local/2pm BST Day 3 (Sunday 18 September): Play starts 2pm local/1pm BST
Day 2 (Saturday 17 September): Play starts 3pm local/2pm BST
Day 3 (Sunday 18 September): Play starts 2pm local/1pm BST
More information: www.daviscup.com
Purchase entrance tickets online: www.ulaznice.hr
Text & info source: www.livetennis.com