PARIS (AP) — France closed in on its first Davis Cup final since 2010 after Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gave the hosts a 2-0 lead over two-time defending champion Czech Republic in the semifinals on Friday.
Opening on Roland Garros center court, Gasquet stormed to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over Tomas Berdych, then France’s No. 1 player, Tsonga, proved too strong for Lukas Rosol, dispatching him 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in 91 minutes.
Serving impeccably and limiting his mistakes to 12 unforced errors on the red clay, Gasquet justified his selection over Gael Monfils.
“This is one of my best wins ever,” said Gasquet, who kneeled on the court after Berdych double-faulted on match point. “The atmosphere was great, this is the Davis Cup, at Roland Garros, and I beat a top player.”
Spurred on by the vocal French fans on a sunny morning, Gasquet quickly found a good rhythm and lost only five points on his serve in the first set, breaking in the fourth game after the sixth-ranked Berdych missed three consecutive shots.
Struggling with his forehand and moving slowly on court, Berdych had 38 unforced errors. The former Wimbledon runner-up was never a threat and admitted he played his worst Davis Cup match.
“My body is not ready for this. I needed more time to be fit. I need more time to be better prepared,” said Berdych, who reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals last week. “This is the toughest conditions for me, coming from fast hard courts to the clay. I definitely need more time but it was a good choice for France. I need to move on and get over it.”
Gasquet, who has been hampered by injuries this season, won the first set with a backhand down the line then jumped to 3-0 in the second as Berdych continued to hit erratic shots. The hard-hitting Czech managed to break Gasquet in the next game but his recovery was short-lived.
The French No. 2 broke again early in the third set, and Berdych gifted the match with his second double fault.
Tsonga made light work of Rosol and thanked his teammate for putting him in an ideal position with his impressive win over Berdych.
“The key was the first match. After that, I was playing freely,” Tsonga said. “Richard’s victory hammered the Czechs.”
Following Monfils’ good run at the U.S. Open, Gasquet was not expected to play in the singles. But Monfils told France captain Arnaud Clement he was still jet-lagged and struggling to adapt to clay after losing in the quarterfinals at Flushing Measdows.
“I quickly found out this week that I was going to play the opening game because Gael was tired,” the 21st-ranked Gasquet said. “And I could not have dreamt of a better start.”
With their 12-tie winning streak at risk, the Czechs should win Saturday’s doubles to keep alive the chance of reaching a third straight final. The doubles pits French duo Julien Benneteau and Monfils against Radek Stepanek and Jiri Vesely but both captains are expected to amend their lineups, with Berdych likely to play with Stepanek.
“Although we are trailing 2-0, the tie is not over, hopefully Tomas will recover,” Czech Republic captain Jaroslav Navratil said.
Berdych and Stepanek boast a 15-1 winning record together in Davis Cup.
Clement hinted that both Tsonga and Gasquet were possible candidates for the doubles rubber. “They showed they are ready to play over the three days,” he said.
If France wins this weekend, it will play at Italy or host Switzerland in the final.
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