Mon, Sep 17, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Defending France advance to final

AP, LILLE, France

France’s Nicolas Mahut, center, and teammate Julien Benneteau, left, celebrate with France’s team captain Yannick Noah, right, after winning their Davis Cup men’s doubles semi-final against Spain’s Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Doubles pair Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut on Saturday gave France an unassailable 3-0 lead over Spain in their Davis Cup semi-final as the defending champions reached back-to-back finals for the first time since 2002.

The French veterans, both aged 36, defeated Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7) on the indoor hard court set up inside the Pierre Mauroy soccer stadium.

France, which won both singles matches Friday, would either face Croatia or the US in the final.

Spain was without top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who was ruled out because of the right-knee injury that forced him to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro last week.

Benneteau and Mahut were expected to play in doubles in last year’s final against Belgium, but Yannick Noah decided to field Richard Gasquet and Pierre Hugues Herbert. Their captain’s decision left them frustrated and Benneteau later said being left out was the hardest moment of his career.

This weekend the pair got another chance after Herbert was ruled out through injury and they did not disappoint Noah, who gave a selection to Benneteau after he announced his retirement during the US Open.

“I’m so happy, what a wonderful gift they’ve made to me, it’s unbelievable,” said Noah, who is to be replaced by Amelie Mauresmo as France’s captain after the final. “They played really well. It’s the best match I’ve seen since I took over.”

Benneteau and Mahut got off to a flying start, losing only four points in the 18-minute opening set. The Spanish pair of Granollers and Lopez looked out of sorts in the early stages, but finally managed to hold a service game at the start of the second, winning as many points in the opening game as they had in the entire first set.

The French pair dominated in every sector and broke again in the third game after Lopez failed to return the ball and was hit in the face instead.

In the third set, Mahut was broken at love in the second game as the Spanish pair won eight consecutive points to lead 2-0.

The French broke back in the seventh game following a series of aggressive returns from Benneteau. Mahut gained a break point with a forehand pass and Benneteau converted it with a forehand return that left the Spanish pair stranded.

Spain saved two match points in the tiebreaker, but Benneteau made no mistake on the third one with a superb backhand winner.

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