I often say winning the Davis Cup comes down to health and luck. This weekend France has both. With Roger Federer nursing a bad back, France will put out a deep squad featuring JW Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. And they also have the luck of the draw having the tie played on their red soil in a cavernous and noisy arena.
But Davis Cup does come down to pressure. The French team has combined to win ZERO Grand Slam titles. In fact the singles trio have just ONE career Grand Slam final among them. Switzerland is led by Federer and Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka. Both Swiss guys have proven they can win under pressure. The big question is, how good is Federer going to be?
Roger of course has been bothered by that back again. And it comes a time when he’s on the brink of one of the few tennis achievements that’s eluded him. And unfortunately, because of that injury I don’t think he leaves France with the trophy he wants.
That said, both Tsonga and Monfils are coming off their own injury issues. But both, along with Gasquet, have enjoyed ample time to get reacquainted with the red stuff while Federer has had what, an hour or two of practice on it? Therefore, I don’t see how Roger can be at his best.
So because of Federer’s health, I have to think France will get through this one 3-2. Here’s how I see it unfolding:
Stan Wawrinka v JW Tsonga
In the proceeding month leading up to London, Wawrinka had just one singles match win. But he played better at the Finals beating Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and nearly pulling off the upset against Federer in the semifinals. I think he carries that momentum over an out-of-form, somewhat cold Tsonga in a tough four or five sets.
The two have split four prior clay meetings. The crowd will certainly help Tsonga, but I think Stan steals the opener.
The pick: Wawrinka (SUI leads 1-0)
Roger Federer v Gael Monfils
Again, it’s hard to imagine Federer’s back is 100% and with limited practice on the red clay, I don’t see him beating Monfils. Yes, Monfils, who hasn’t played much due to injury, will get nervous and will get tight, but he’ll make Roger have to hit a lot of balls putting a ton of stress on that back. So riding the crowd and the emotions, Gael gets through over the clay-rusty Federer.
The pick: Monfils (tied 1-1)
Benneteau/Gasquet v Chiudenelli/Lammer
Big edge here to the French. Unless somehow Federer’s back will allow him to play in the doubles with Stan, which I strongly doubt, I don’t see how the Swiss win this, even if Gasquet/Benneteau feel the nerves which I expect them to in this must-win for France.
And nor do I see any change in outcome if only Stan can sub in. A healthy Federer/Wawrinka – Yes, the Swiss have a chance. Just Stan – No!
The pick: Benneteau/Gasquet (FRA leads 2-1)
Roger Federer v JW Tsonga
Assuming his back is recovered from Monfils, this is a tricky match because I think Roger can win this for the reason that I’m not fully convinced Tsonga can finish the job in a Davis Cup winning situation against a legend like Federer.
I also think Roger should be much more acclimated to the red clay thanks in large part to Monfils making him chase down so many balls.
With the tie on the line, the French crowd should be nothing short of in a frenzy, but Federer should be able to handle it and if he can get up early in the match, that could be enough.
In a match on a surface that really suits neither, on a whim Federer comes up big to keep hopes alive.
The pick: Federer (tied 2-2)
Gael Monfils v Stan Wawrinka
There are few things better in this sport or any sport than a fifth rubber in a Davis Cup final. Now just imagine Monfils trying to win it in front of his crowd. What an atmosphere that will be if it happens. And I’m sure Gael squeeze every drop of energy he can from his faithful.
That said, unfortunately for Swiss chances, as we saw in London Wawrinka seems to be easily distracted. And if Mirka can get under Stan’s skin just think what 27,000 screaming Frenchmen plus Le Monf will do! To me, that spells nothing but trouble for Stan and Co.
With so much on the line, Monfils will get tight, but Stan does as well, so it almost cancels out. In the end, fueled by the crowd Monfils takes the home team to Davis Cup glory for a 10th time.
The pick: Monfils (FRA wins 3-2)
If there’s a way for the Swiss to win it is if they can somehow jump out early, take the crowd out and sweep the Friday singles. Stan can certainly beat Tsonga and maybe Monfils gets overwhelmed by the pressure and fades out against Federer.
Remember the top two French guys haven’t played much, so expect some rust.
The doubles, however, looks to be a locked in point for France. Then Sunday, if Roger’s somewhat healthy and in position to clinch the tie, what a match that would be. Talk about a pressure moment for Federer, his likely sole chance to win Davis Cup on his racquet – wow! Let’s see what he can do. Or maybe more accurately, what his body will allow him to do.
Tennis Channel has live coverage of the tie starting at 8am ET.
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