Davis Cup Finals Preview
Posted on October 11 2018
Reigning champions, France will take on Croatia in the Davis Cup finals in November, with France looking to defend the title they won last year. Starting from 2019, the Davis Cup will be taking on a new format, so it is an opportunity for the winning team to go down in history as the last winners of the ‘original’ Davis Cup. Both teams have worked their way through a tough draw, starting with the first round way back in February, and now find themselves just one step away from lifting the title. So who will feature for the two teams, how did they get to the finals, and what are their chances of winning? We answer all.
French captain, Yannick Noah, who will make his last appearance as France’s Davis Cup coach in the final, has drawn upon the great depth that French tennis has to offer. Noah has selected a total of 8 players over their 3 ties, and it will be very difficult to predict how the defending champions will line up come finals time.
World number 25, Richard Gasquet has featured in two singles matches for the French team, bringing great experience to an already strong squad. The former world number 7 is famed for his luscious single-handed backhand that frankly you could write poems about, and he will be looking to use his 13 years of Davis Cup experience to great effect. Gasquet has a total record of 14 wins, and 10 loses in the tournament, with 1 win, and 1 loss this year.
The crafty left-hander featured in two singles matches back in France’s first-round fixture with the Netherlands, making his first appearances in the tournament. Mannarino lost his first rubber to the Dutch, but came back to win his second match, and eventually clinch the tie for the French. The 30-year-old is currently ranked number 33 in the world, with a career-high ranking of 22. While the Frenchman is not a big household name, he has the game to really push any opponent and could be a useful weapon for this French team.
At 24 years of age, Pouille is certainly on the younger end of the French lineup, but this has not stopped him from building an excellent Davis Cup record. The world number 19 has a record of 7 wins, and 3 loses in the competition, going 3-0 in this year's competition. In this year’s edition of the competition, Pouille has shown that he can tough out the important games, twice winning in 5 sets. Although Pouille only played one match in the semi-final against Spain, expect him to be in contention for plenty of game time in the final. It’s not easy to find players who are as reliable as Pouille in big situations, and this shows in his Davis Cup record.
Another of France’s over 30 club is world number 42 Jérémy Chardy. Chardy is another Frenchman that provides great depth to this French squad, although he is only ranked 42 in the world, he offers great experience and has a strong 5 and 1 record in the Davis Cup. His only Davis Cup loss did come this year however, as he was defeated in 4 sets by Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals. Nevertheless, it is important to have people with experience of winning Davis Cup matches on your squad, and Chardy is just another option that the French have.
Another debutant for France this year has been Benoit Paire. Although the 29-year-old finds himself ranked 63 in the world, he has been as high as 16 and is another French player who can offer a great deal of experience. Paire put in a superb performance to absolutely crush Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 in his only appearance so far, and so will be high on confidence should he be called upon in the finals. Paire adds yet more depth to the French squad, which has an option for every kind of match up.
We keep talking about the experience on this French team, but Mahut has to be the most experienced of them all. Famed for playing the longest match of all time against John Isner at Wimbledon, the 36 old has had a brilliant career in both singles, and doubles. These days, Mahut is mainly a double specialist and has featured in all three of France’s doubles matches. He has an excellent doubles record in the competition, having won 8, and lost just 2 of his doubles matches. This year has seen him win all three of his doubles matches, forming strong partnerships with both Pierre Hugues Herbert and Julien Benneteux.
Forming the second half of France’s doubles pairing in the first two rounds was 27-year old Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert is another player with a strong singles and doubles pedigree, currently ranking at number 53 in the world at singles, and number 18 in doubles. Herbert and Mahut have formed an excellent partnership over the past few years, amassing 6 wins for just the one loss. Who did that loss come against? Well, that was against Croatia back in 2016 when they lost to Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig. Could the Croatians be their bogey team?
Another veteran of 8 Davis Cups, Benneteux filled in brilliantly for Herbert in the semifinals, to partner Mahut to a comfortable victory against Spain. While Mahut and Herbert seem to be the preferred partnership for the French, Mahut and Benneteux remain undefeated together in Davis Cup tennis with a 3-0 record. Benneteux is just another option that France have; they seem to have an option for every situation, and this is probably why they are appearing in yet another final.
Led by captain, Zeljko Krajan, the Croatian line up has been much easier to predict, but the team has still featured a total of 6 players over the first round. However, it seems most likely that their line up for the final will be quite straightforward, with Marin Cilic and Borna Coric in the singles, and Cilic and Dodig lining up in the doubles. Nevertheless, there could yet be some surprises, so here is a rundown on those that might feature for Croatia.
Undoubtedly the biggest star in this matchup, Cilic is a well established top ten player, and Grand Slam winner. At number 6 in the world, Cilic is comfortably ranked higher than any of the French players and will be hoping to lead his country to their second Davis Cup title. Cilic has played 54 rubbers in the Davis Cup so far, with a strong record of 37 wins and 17 loses, proving that he is not just a singles player. This year, Cilic has 3 wins and 1 loss in the singles, and a solitary doubles win. Although Cilic has not featured in Croatia’s last two matches, expect him to renew his partnership with Ivan Dodig for the final.
The 21-year-old has had an excellent 2018, rising to number 18 in the world, and taking some big victories along the way. This is the fifth year that Coric has featured in the competition, and although he has a mixed record in the competition, he has won some huge games for Croatia this year. The youngster came back from 2 sets to 1 down in the deciding rubber of the semi-final against the USA, clinching the final set 6-3 to take his team to the tournament final. Coric might be young, but he has shown he is the man for the moment and will be a tough test for the French players.
28-year-old Viktor Galovic featured in the singles for the first round tie against Canada, losing in 4 sets to Vasek Pospisil. Galovic, ranked 203 in the world is clearly cover for the two main singles players, Cilic and Coric, and is highly unlikely to feature in the final. Croatia will be praying that their two main men stay fit, as they simply don’t have the strength in depth the French squad has.
Doubles specialist Dodig is another player with a wealth of experience, and a long history in the Davis Cup. He doesn’t have the most eye-catching Davis Cup records, having won 13 and lost 14 of his doubles matches, but that record is greatly changed when he plays with Marin Cilic. The pair have 4 wins in 4 matches including big scalps against the Bryan brothers, and their potential opponents, Mahut and Hubert. This tie could well depend on the outcome of the doubles, and Croatia will be confident that they’ve got the team to beat whoever the French put out.
Pavic is another doubles specialist who adds options to this Croatia lineup. Currently ranked number 4 in the world for doubles, Pavic who is 25 years old will offer this Croatia team a good doubles option for years to come, but perhaps this year will not be the year for him to feature in the final. Pavic currently has a poor Davis Cup record of 0 wins and 4 loses, which would lead us to believe that the more experienced Cilic and Dodig will feature in the doubles.
Where Will it be Won and Lost?
Assuming everyone is fit to compete in the final, Croatia have to be slight favorites to win their second title, despite France being the reigning champions. This is largely due to the fact that they have Marin Cilic, an established top 10 player, and a man with lots of experience in the biggest of matches. Cilic is backed up by a rising star of tennis in Coric, who on his day has the ability to push anyone, and a doubles line up of Cilic and Dodig means that there are no real weaknesses in this team.
France, on the other hand, will be relying on their depth to cause an upset in this final. The French team does not have any real superstars, but what it can do is find a match up to suit any situation. The variety of styles that the French team possesses means Noah will look at each game in isolation and pick the best player to win that game. The French have an extremely strong doubles team, and Mahut and Herbert will be desperate to get their revenge on Cilic and Dodig for inflicting their only Davis Cup loss. If the French are to win back to back titles then the doubles will be key.
So Who Will Win the Last True Davis Cup?
We are going to plump for a 3-2 win for Croatia, with Cilic winning both singles, Coric picking up 1 win in the singles, and the French taking the doubles rubber. Hopefully, everything will be decided by the last rubber, and the tennis provides a fitting ending for the Davis Cup in its current form.
The Davis Cup will return in February 2019 for its first year in the new format, with 24 nations competing in the qualifying event. 12 qualifiers will then compete in a World Cup of tennis comprising 18 teams from the 18th-24th of November in Madrid. The countries already qualified for the tournament are Croatia, France, Spain, USA, Argentina, and GBR.