RELATED: McEnroe Quarterfinal Blog
By E.J. Crawford, Special to USTA.com
Few Davis Cup rivalries equal that of the United States versus France. The two countries first met in 1905, last met in 2002 and have squared off in the final on nine occasions. Leading into this weekend’s 2008 Davis Cup Quarterfinal at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., the head-to-head standing between the two countries is deadlocked, 7-7.
For the U.S., breaking the tie means more than Atlantic Ocean bragging rights. A victory offers the opportunity to pursue a second consecutive Davis Cup championship and a 33rd overall. For France, a win would secure a place in the semifinals for the first time since 2004, a surprisingly long layoff for a nation that boasts nine Davis Cup titles (tied for third all-time behind the U.S. and Australia) and an ATP-best 14 players in the Top 100 leading into the spring hard-court season.
“I have no doubt that the occasion will be huge, against the best team in the world, in front of a fully packed stadium,” said French Captain Guy Forget, who defeated a young Pete Sampras to clinch the 1991 Davis Cup title for France. “The task promises to be very tough, but it’s very exciting and I really look forward to being there.”
Despite their 14 prior meetings, the two countries have never met on a hard court—the surface of choice for this weekend—in Davis Cup play, though both teams boast players very capable on this or any surface. For the U.S., Andy Roddick is a two-time US Open finalist (2003 champion) and a three-time Australian Open semifinalist, and all 10 of James Blake’s career titles have come on hard courts. France counters with surprise 2008 Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist Richard Gasquet, three-time Grand Slam doubles champion Michael Llodra and the surging Paul-Henri Mathieu, who enters the Davis Cup at a career-high of No. 12 in the world rankings.
The comparative strength of the singles players for the U.S. and France places an even greater emphasis on the doubles, where Bob and Mike Bryan will likely face the French duo of Tsonga and Gasquet, who defeated the Bryans in the Sydney final in January. The Bryans, coming off a victory at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, are bidding to break a tie with John McEnroe-Peter Fleming and Wilmer Allison-John Van Ryn for the most victories by a U.S. doubles team in Davis Cup play. The Bryans enter the weekend at 14-1, and they have won nine straight Davis Cup rubbers since falling to the Croatian team of Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic in 2005.
“It’s a great honor to have one of the best records in Davis Cup because we value Davis Cup a lot and we put a lot of energy into it,” Mike Bryan said. “We just pull our hats down and put our best stuff on the court. Luckily, we’re 14 1 and have had some good fortune. I think we’ve played some of our best tennis in Davis Cup, which we’re really proud of. Who knows, we might end up 14-13.”
While that is highly unlikely, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe allowed that the French will field a formidable doubles team and that, on paper, the eight players slated to compete this weekend are evenly matched. For a possible difference-maker, McEnroe cited the expected capacity crowd at Joel Coliseum.
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"I think that it will be a tremendously exciting match, because France has a great team and great young players, obviously Tsonga with a great Australian Open,” McEnroe said following his team’s first-round win on clay in Austria. “They have an excellent doubles team. So I think not only do they have a great team, but great individual players and a lot of flair in their team. Playing Winston Salem, which is where we played Spain last year, was an incredible environment. We’re hoping for the same kind of scene there this year.”
The U.S. defeated Spain, 4-1, in the quarterfinals in 2007, and once again the venue and surface appear to favor the home team. Overall, the U.S. is 108-15 at home in its history, having won 11 of its last 12, and has not lost on a surface other than clay since 2003. France, meantime, is 2-3 on the road in its last five ties and has not won back-to-back ties on the road since 2001. (France defeated Romania in Romania to advance to the quarterfinals.) Moreover, while the two countries have split their 14 matchups, the U.S. is 6-2 on the faster surfaces similar to this weekend (indoor carpet and grass), while France holds a 5-1 edge on clay.
Coming 103 years after their first encounter, the 15th meeting between the U.S. and France promises to be another memorable matchup in a classic Davis Cup rivalry.