Noah ends 'losing culture' as France wins Davis Cup title
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
LILLE, France (AP) Mission accomplished.
When he was re-appointed France's Davis Cup captain two years ago, Yannick Noah said he had a "clear plan."
The former French Open winner put it into practice, and brought back the Davis Cup trophy to France for the first time in 16 years on Sunday.
Noah, a charismatic figure in France who became a successful singer, led France to its 10th title in the team event with a 3-2 win over Belgium in the final.
Noah, who captained the team to his third victory after winning the Davis Cup title in 1991 and 1996, said the key to success was to end the "losing culture" that had taken hold of the French team.
"Over the past 16 years everybody got used to defeat," Noah said. "I had never felt that before and it destroyed me. I fully realized it during the semifinals. It was tough."
France had a relatively easy path to the title this year, while Noah's predecessor Arnaud Clement had to deal with the likes of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in France's previous final against Switzerland in 2014.
In victories over Japan, Britain and Serbia this year, Noah's players gained from the absence of Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, respectively. And in the final, apart from David Goffin, Belgium players were not up to the task.
Back in 1991, Noah helped France create one of the biggest upsets in Davis Cup history when it captured its first title in 59 years by beating defending champion United States.
In contrast Sunday, anything other than a win would have been regarded as a failure.
"Now we are going to surf that successful wave," said Noah, whose future at the helm of the squad remains unclear.
On the indoor hard court of the Pierre Mauroy stadium, it was the 18th-ranked Lucas Pouille who ended the drought for France, winning the decisive match for the hosts.
Pouille's lopsided 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 win over Steve Darcis in the second reverse singles ended a run of three losses in finals.
"There are no words needed," said Pouille, after playing for the first time in a decisive fifth Davis Cup rubber. "Just look at the atmosphere and the emotion. We really wanted this trophy and finally we got it after 16 years."
Pouille had lost his two previous Davis Cup matches - including his opening singles against Goffin on Friday - but was in total control against Darcis and did not face a single break point.
"Too bad for those who had buried me on Friday," Pouille said. "I wanted to destroy everything on court."
France joined Britain in third place on the list for the most Davis Cup titles, behind the United States (32) and Australia (28).
France had won its last title in 2001, and lost in finals in 2002, 2010 and 2014.
Goffin had earlier kept alive his country's hopes of a first title in the team competition by leveling the tie at 2-2. Goffin beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2 in the first reverse singles match in the French city of Lille.
Pouille, who was born close to Lille, used his powerful groundstrokes to unsettle Darcis, who had a perfect 5-0 record in decisive fifth-rubber Davis Cup matches.
But Darcis never got into the swing of the match and looked in trouble throughout.
Pouille made the most of his Belgian rival's many errors in the first set, converted his first break point in the second game and wrapped up the opener after dropping just eight points on his serve.
Despite being known for his fighting spirit, Darcis looked out of his depth and dropped his serve again in the third game of the second set, surrendering to his opponent's forehand onslaught. Another break of serve in the set gave Pouille a 4-1 lead and he never looked back, taking the second and third sets after winning 12 straight games.
Pouille fell on his back and cried as his teammates rushed on court. The whole French squad, including Noah, then did a lap of honor at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.
"It might have been written that Lucas should win in front of his home crowd, this is fantastic," said Noah, the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament back in 1983 at the French Open.
Goffin, the best player of the final, had pushed the tie into a fifth match with an impressive demolition of Tsonga.
The seventh-ranked Goffin, who also won his opening singles without dropping a set, delivered a superb performance to defeat France's top player.
Tsonga served extremely well in the first set and had six chances to break Goffin, but his Belgian rival weathered some blistering groundstrokes and showed nerves of steel on important points.
Goffin saved a set point with a forehand winner at 6-5 and sealed the tiebreaker on his first chance, with a backhand winner down the line.
"I missed several chances in the first set, I should have been more opportunistic," Tsonga said. "After, it was complicated, he played more relaxed and there was not much I could do."
Goffin broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set after Tsonga double faulted, and broke twice in the third set after pressuring the Frenchman into many mistakes.
Goffin has been in terrific form recently and was runner-up at the ATP Finals last week in London, where he defeated both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Despite fatigue and an ailing knee, Goffin carried his London form into the northern French city of Lille, where he swept past Pouille on Friday before Tsonga leveled at 1-1 with a straight-set win over Darcis. The French won Saturday's doubles.
Updated November 26, 2017