Davis Cup: France favourite to reach final despite poor form
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