Davis Cup: France favourite to reach fi­nal de­spite poor form

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

WITH Novak Djokovic out of the Davis Cup semi­fi­nals, even a French lineup strug­gling for form is heav­ily favoured to reach the team event fi­nal for the 18th time.

Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga and Lu­cas Pouille lead France in sin­gles play this week­end on clay against Ser­bia at Stade Pierre Mau­roy, the venue where France lost to Switzer­land the last time it made it to the fi­nal three years ago.

In the other semi­fi­nal in Brus­sels, Bel­gium will host 28-time cham­pion Aus­tralia on in­door clay.

It has been a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son for French ten­nis, leav­ing no more French play­ers in the Top 15.

“We know that we had a bad sea­son, but we don’t need to be re­minded it ev­ery day, this is not a con­struc­tive ap­proach,” French cap­tain Yan­nick Noah said.

The Tri­col­ors are with­out Richard Gas­quet, Gilles Si­mon and Gael Mon­fils in the north­ern city. Si­mon has been going through a bad patch of re­sults, Gas­quet lost in the first round at the US Open and Mon­fils, who had been named as a re­serve in cap­tain Yan­nick Noah’s squad, with­drew last week with a right knee in­jury.

But the Ser­bian team has taken an even big­ger hit, with 12-time Grand Slam cham­pion Djokovic, Vik­tor Troicki and Janko Tip­sare­vic all ruled out with in­juries. Ser­bia cap­tain and player Ne­nad Zi­mon­jic has been forced to reshuf­fle his squad, se­lect­ing Du­san La­jovic, Laslo Djere and Filip Kra­ji­novic for the trip to north­ern France.

“Djokovic pulling out is very good news for the team,” Noah said. “It’s cer­tain that we have much more of a chance.”

The French should not be too con­fi­dent, though. Tsonga, who be­came a fa­ther this year and will be play­ing his first Davis Cup match of the sea­son this week­end, man­aged to win just one match since a third round exit in Wim­ble­don, while Pouille’s quick pro­gres­sion has been slowed down this sea­son.

The coun­tries have not met since the 2010 fi­nal, which Ser­bia won 3-2. France last reached the Davis Cup fi­nal in 2014, los­ing to Switzer­land.

Aus­tralia is sec­ond only to the United States in terms of Davis Cup tri­umphs, but hasn’t won the ti­tle since 2003.

“It’s such an im­por­tant tie for Aus­tralian ten­nis,” said Todd Wood­bridge, who was part of the 2003 win­ning team. “It has a real op­por­tu­nity to be a spring­board to some re­ally big things over the com­ing years.”

Aus­tralian cap­tain Lley­ton He­witt has se­lected Thanasi Kokki­nakis along­side Nick Kyr­gios, Jor­dan Thomp­son and John Peers in his team. The Bel­gians will be led by David Gof­fin and Steve Dar­cis.

“Davis Cup is one of the most im­por­tant events that I can play,” said the No. 20-ranked Ky­grios ahead of Aus­tralia’s first away match this year. “It’s going to change the dy­namic. Ob­vi­ously play­ing in Aus­tralia, it’s one of the most sup­port­ive home crowd you can get, they re­ally get be­hind you and it can re­ally change the at­mos­phere. I’m not re­ally too sure about what to ex­pect in Brus­sels, but I’m sure the crowd will be re­ally onesided.” – AP ONE re­tired jersey num­ber just isn’t enough for Kobe Bryant and the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers.

The Lak­ers will re­tire Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 in a cer­e­mony Dec 18 dur­ing their game against Golden State, the fran­chise an­nounced Tues­day.

Bryant wore No. 8 from 1996 to 2006, when he switched to No. 24 for the re­main­der of a 20-year ca­reer spent en­tirely with the Lak­ers. He will be the 10th player hon­ored by the Lak­ers with a re­tired num­ber hung high on the Sta­ples Cen­ter wall, but the first in NBA his­tory to have two numbers re­tired by the same team.

“Kobe’s jer­seys are tak­ing their right­ful home next to the great­est Lak­ers of all time,” Lak­ers owner Jeanie Buss said. “There was never any doubt this day would come. The only ques­tion was when. Once again, Lak­ers fans will cel­e­brate our hero, and once again, our foes will envy the legendary Kobe Bryant.”

The five-time NBA cham­pion and 18-time All-Star se­lec­tion is the Lak­ers’ fran­chise leader in points (33,643), games played (1,346), 3-poin­t­ers (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws (8,378), among count­less su­perla­tives.

Bryant is the third-lead­ing scorer in NBA his­tory af­ter be­com­ing the first player to spend at least 20 sea­sons with one fran­chise. He re­tired in 2016 with a bravura 60-point per­for­mance in his farewell game against Utah.

Bryant scored al­most ex­actly as many points in his No. 8 jersey (16,777) as he did while wear­ing No. 24 (16,866). He re­turned to his high school jersey numbers mid­way through his ca­reer in an at­tempt at a fresh start fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault lev­eled against him three years ear­lier, caus­ing him to lose nu­mer­ous spon­sor­ship deals even af­ter the case was dropped by Colorado au­thor­i­ties.

The 16-time NBA cham­pion Lak­ers have only re­tired the numbers of Hall of Fame play­ers: Wilt Cham­ber­lain (13), El­gin Bay­lor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Magic John­son (32), Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar (33), Shaquille O’Neal (34), James Wor­thy (42), Jerry West (44) and Ja­maal Wilkes (52). O’Neal’s jersey was the most re­cent to be hung on the wall in 2013.

Bryant is el­i­gi­ble to en­ter the Hall of Fame in 2021, but the Lak­ers de­cided not to wait for that for­mal­ity to en­shrine Kobe in their own ex­clu­sive club.

Bryant teamed with O’Neal to win three con­sec­u­tive NBA ti­tles from 2000-02, and he worked with Pau Ga­sol to win two more in 2009 and 2010. The Lak­ers strug­gled late in his ca­reer while Bryant ended three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons early with in­juries, and the fran­chise de­layed its re­build­ing in favour of show­cas­ing Bryant to his ador­ing world­wide fans. – AP

Photo: AP

David Gof­fin.

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