Saturday, 4 December 2010
France take the lead after doubles thriller
France will take a narrow 2-1 lead into the final day of the Davis Cup after Serbian pair Nenad Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki, urged on by a buzzing Belgrade Arena, threw away a two-set lead to lose 3-6 6-7(3) 6-4 7-5 6-4 against French duo Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement.
Ahead of the all-important reverse singles rubbers on Sunday, the doubles provided both teams with the chance to grab momentum that could prove decisive. Both countries knew the importance of Saturday's result - only two nations, Spain and Russia, have managed to win the Davis Cup without triumphing in the doubles since the creation of the World Group in 1981.
With much at stake, both team captains opted for experience over youth, with Troicki the youngest of the four players at 24. Serbia won the toss and elected to serve first and, after an intriguing opening game, Zimonjic got Serbia on the scoreboard.
The warning signs were there for France in the early exchanges as Llodra was forced to pull out all the stops to prevent Serbia from breaking in the second game. The Belgrade Arena was rocking and a clearly irritated Clement let his emotions get the better of him, serving erratically to hand Serbia the initiative. France, struggling to assert themselves on the contest, failed to break their Serbian counterparts' stranglehold on the match and duly lost the first stanza thanks to some tasty serving from Zimonjic.
The French pair responded in style, with Clement in particular showing flashes of brilliance to quieten the crowd, if only for a moment. However in game 11, Clement double-faulted to gift Serbia the break, leaving Troicki to come out and serve for the second set. The youngster buckled and the set headed into a tiebreak - the Serbs returning with interest to open up a 5-2 lead before Zimonjic sealed a two-set advantage.
The French pair refused to lie down though, and an early break at the start of the third set was enough to take the match into a fourth, sparking nerves among the boisterous home crowd for the first time.
With the match now well into its fourth hour, it soon became clear that the tide was swinging towards France, with Clement particularly inspired at the net. His reactions played a huge part in levelling the contest, as the visitors broke at 6-5 to force the decider.
Where the crowd were once an inspiration, they were now contributing to the nerves of the Serbian duo, who were instantly broken again. Llodra and Clement now had a lead to defend for the first time in the contest, and their net play proved vital as they moved France to within one more victory of their tenth Davis Cup triumph.