France favorite to reach Davis Cup final despite poor form

Belgium's David Goffin, left, speaks during a press conference prior to a Davis Cup World Group tennis semi-final in Brussels, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Belgium plays a semi-final against Australia beginning Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

PARIS — With Novak Djokovic out of the Davis Cup semifinals, even a French lineup struggling for form is heavily favored 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 series 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 of Lille. Simon has been going through a bad patch of results, Gasquet lost in the first round at the U.S 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 one-sided."

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