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France Ousts Defending Champion Spain to Reach Davis Cup Semifinals

The year was 1923 the last time France carried a Davis Cup tie against Spain.  Today, the Frenchmen rectified that situation as Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra defeated Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez 6-1,6-2, 6-7,7-6 to secure the crucial third point.  In so doing, France advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2004.

Yesterday in the city of Clermont-Ferrand, on a hardcourt stadium with over 6,000 rowdy fans, Gael Monfils set the tone of the quarterfinals with a 7-6,6-2,4-6,5-7,6-4 win over David Ferrer.  Ahead two sets to none, Monfils took a detour which permitted Ferrer to force the match into a fifth set.  After getting the early break, Monfils wiped out a break point to maintain a 5-2 advantage.  But, with Monfils serving at 5-3, Ferrer climbed back into the set.  However, after dropping serve, Monfils broke to give France the first rubber.

The second rubber was a battle of lefthanders, Llodra versus Verdasco.  For Llodra, the world number 10 presented a daunting challenge.  Nevertheless, by utilizing his serve supremely, Llodra defeated Verdasco 6-7,6-4,6-3,7-6.  After Llodra failed to capitalize on two set points, Verdasco prevailed in a first set tiebreaker.  Still, Llodra blocked out his previous misfortunes to break Verdasco in the initial game of the second set.  That was all the Frenchman needed to square the match.  The second set, Llodra again captured a sole break to carry that set.  After Llodra obtained the break early on in the fourth, Verdasco was able to manufacture his first break point of the match.  Nonetheless, Llodra managed to turn the Spaniard away.  Yet, in the sixth game, Verdasco procured a second break point opportunity and converted.  Ultimately, the set was settled in a tiebreaker in France’s favor.  With Llodra’s first triumph in singles in Davis Cup play, France was one victory away from a semifinal berth.

Today, following an easy hold by Llodra, Lopez started his game with a double fault.  Later, with a backhand mid-court winner, Llodra gave France double break point.  When Verdasco’s backhand volley found the bottom of the net, France secured the break.  The next game, courtesy of a forehand error by Benneteau, Spain had break point.  However, Benneteau served well enough to force the Spaniards into mistakes and extend France’s lead to 3-0 in the first set.  With Lopez serving, after a good backhand return by Llodra, Verdasco dumped a forehand volley into the net to hand France double break point.  When Benneteau connected on a forehand return winner, France stretched its advantage to 5-1. Shortly thereafter, Benneteau closed out the set.

With a forehand up the line return winner, Benneteau brought France to break point.  When Verdasco netted another forehand, France broke to open the second set.  With a love game, Llodra consolidated for 2-0.  Comfortable games by both teams kept the Spaniards just one game behind.  However, serving at 2-4, Lopez committed two consecutive double faults to stare at double break point.  After saving the initial, Lopez sent a forehand volley into the net.  As a result, France took the game and later with a forehand volley winner by Llodra sealed the second set.

The third set began with double break point for France on Lopez’ serve.  Llodra capitalized with a volley winner.  Then, Llodra comfortably consolidated for 2-0.  For the Spaniards, Benneteau’s serve was the weaker link.  When Verdasco connected with a forehand mid-court winner, Spain had break point.  Still, Benneteau provoked the miscues from his opponents to keep a 3-1 margin.  Later though, after Verdasco erased a break point to guard serve, a return winner by Lopez on Benneteau’s serve gave Spain double break point.  When Benneteau misfired on the volley, the set was leveled at 4 all.  Eventually, a tiebreaker was played in which Spain overcame a 2-4 deficit and shook off a match point.  On Spain’s first set point, Benneteau’s volley landed wide giving the defending champion life.

With a new spring in their steps, the Spaniards had the French crowd on the edge of its seat.  With an ace, Verdasco capped a love game to square the set at 4 all.  On the other hand, Llodra was unflappable on serve putting the home team ahead 5-4.  With each side losing just one point on serve the next three games, the fourth set went to a tiebreaker.  The server’s domination continued until the sixth point whereby Verdasco double faulted to donate a mini-break to France for 4-2.  Then, with Llodra serving, the Spaniards pushed two returns long.  Thus, the Frenchmen arrived at triple match point.  Although Verdasco and Lopez salvaged two match points with winners; after Benneteau’s wide serve, Llodra put away the volley to wrap up the tiebreaker and the victory for his country.

Spain has been masterful this past decade in Davis Cup competition, winning the last two years. Moreover, the Spaniards pounded France in the semifinals in 2004 as they made their way to their second title.  France’s quarterfinal victory is its second over Spain in six attempts.

France will clash with either Argentina or Russia for a spot in the final.  In Moscow, the Argentines prevailed in doubles today and consequently have a 2-1 edge over the Russians after these two nations split their rubbers yesterday.

On the other side of the draw, Croatia and Serbia were even after their matches on Friday.  Today, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic crushed Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig to place the Serbs in front 2-1.  The winner of that group will collide with the Czech Republic who reached the semifinals for the second straight year.  Yesterday, Ivo Minar and Jan Hajek thumped Chile’s Nicolas Massu and Paul Capdeville to give the Czechs a 2-0 lead.  This afternoon, Hajek and partner Lukas Dlouhy disappointed the partisan crowd by prevailing in four sets over the Chileans.

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