Tsonga level for France in Davis Cup semi­fi­nals

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

France and Ser­bia are lev­eled at 11 in their Davis Cup semi­fi­nal af­ter Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga dis­patched 22-year-old debu­tant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Fri­day fol­low­ing Lu­cas Pouille's shock de­feat in the open­ing sin­gles match.

In the ab­sence of No­vak Djokovic, Vik­tor Troicki and Janko Tip­sare­vic, the French were ex­pected to en­joy a calm week­end in the north­ern city of Lille. But Du­san La­jovic made the most of Pouille's in­con­sis­tent dis­play to give Ser­bia a 1-0 lead on the red clay of the Pierre Mau­roy Sta­dium.

The 80th-ranked La­jovic made a strong start and cap­i­tal­ized on Pouille's mis­takes to pre­vail 6-1, 36, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). The French­man never found the right tempo, made wrong tac­ti­cal choices, and hit a to­tal of 70 un­forced er­rors.

Play­ing with the French Davis Cup team for the first time this sea­son, Tsonga made a suc­cess­ful re­turn in the team com­pe­ti­tion and won 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.

In the other semi­fi­nal in Brus­sels, David Gof­fin pro­duced a hard­fought win against Aus­tralian John Mill­man to earn the hosts an early lead. Gof­fin won a tight base­line bat­tle that lasted 3 and 1/2 hours against Mill­man, tri­umph­ing 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to ex­tend his Davis Cup record to 14 wins from 15 matches.

Aus­tralia, a 28-time cham­pion, is chas­ing a spot in the fi­nal for the first time since it won the ti­tle in 2003, while Bel­gium is try­ing to reach the fi­nal for only the third time.

"Phys­i­cally I'm not at my best, but I knew for the team and the fans that I had to leave my heart out on the court," said Gof­fin, who has been ham­pered by a knee in­jury re­cently. "To give one point to your coun­try is the best feel­ing you can have."

Both semi­fi­nals are played on clay.

In Lille, the 22nd-ranked Pouille dropped his serve im­me­di­ately and looked ner­vous through­out the first set wrapped up by La­jovic in 25 min­utes.

The Ser­bian took all the risks and re­duced Pouille to a spec­ta­tor's role with deep ground­strokes and kicked serves that caught his op­po­nent out.

"The big­gest ad­van­tage for me was to win the first set," La­jovic said. "It's al­ways im­por­tant in Davis Cup."

La­jovic had cramps in his right foot to­wards the end of the fourth set and needed some help from Ser­bia player and cap­tain Ne­nad Zi­mon­jic to put his shoe back on af­ter hit­ting an over­head win­ner for a 5-4 lead in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

"It would have been ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to play five sets," La­jovic said.

Pouille was im­pa­tient too of­ten, try­ing to shorten the points in­stead of mak­ing his op­po­nent run. The French­man upped his game to level at one set apiece and hit some beau­ti­ful points, in­clud­ing an over­head af­ter chas­ing a drop shot that prompted loud cheers in the stands.

But the re­lief did not last. The French­man's in­con­sis­tent serve came back to haunt him in the last two sets and La­jovic sealed the match at the net with a back­hand vol­ley, rais­ing both arms in tri­umph.

Bel­gium's Arthur de Greef and Ruben Bemel­mans are ex­pected to team up against Aus­tralians John Peers and Jordan Thomp­son in Satur­day's dou­bles, with French pair Pierre-Hugues Her­bert and Ni­co­las Mahut fac­ing Filip Kra­ji­novic and Zi­mon­jic in Lille.

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