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France Ousts Defending Champion Spain to Reach Davis Cup Semifinals

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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.

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Spain Bounces Israel , Czech Republic Outlives Croatia in Davis Cup Semis

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Spain Bounces Israel , Czech Republic Outlives Croatia in Davis Cup Semis


img_97281With Spain’s best players, Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco, out of commission due to abdominal muscle injuries, the defending Davis Cup champion had to rely on an alternate squad to bat in the semifinals against Israel.  Unfortunately for first time semifinalist Israel, the tandem of David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez showed no cracks.

Spurred on by their home crowd as well as cheerleaders Nadal and Verdasco, the Spaniards gave an A+ performance. As a result, by Saturday, Spain had carried all three rubbers to safely move on to the finals for the second straight year. Although with the clay Israel was at a conspicuous disadvantage, it still put up an admirable fight. On Friday, Ferrer got his team off to a great start with a 6-1,6-4,6-3 victory over Harel Levy.  Subsequently, Israel’s best singles offering Dudi Sela battled Juan Carlos Ferrero. Despite Sela’s valiant effort, with a far more competitive rubber than the score reflected, Sela could not keep up with the former French Open champion.  Ferrero prevailed 6-4,6-2,6-0.

On Saturday, with Spain ahead two matches to none, the 2008 Australian doubles champion and renowned Israeli pair Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich represented Israel’s best opportunity to keep its remarkable run alive.  The Israelis encountered a wall as Robredo & Lopez, who seldom play as a unit, came up victorious 7-6,6-7,6-4,6-2.  With neither team able to capitalize on break point chances, the first set was captured by Spain in a tiebreaker.  However, the Israelis quickly reversed that momentum  in the second set when Lopez double faulted at 0-40 giving them a 1-0 edge.  After Israel consolidated, Robredo saved three break points to maintain a one game deficit at 1-2.  With Israel serving for the set at 4-5, Erlich committed a myriad of volley errors which allowed Spain to get back on serve. Following Robredo’s love service game for 6-5, Israel up 40-15 needed Ram’s sensational volleying skills to efface a break point and eventually get into a tiebreaker.  Shortly after, a backhand volley error by Erlich permitted the Spaniards to build a 4-1 lead.  Yet, this resilient Israeli pair saved five set points and equalized the match when Robredo’s forehand volley sailed long.

In the third set, Spain converted triple break point, then broke Israel a second time for 3-0 with some spectacular forehands by Robredo. Although Erlich and Ram closed the gap slightly by breaking, the insurance break was just the cushion the Spaniard required to claim the set. Only weeks removed from right elbow surgery, Erlich couldn’t contend with the blows from the Spanish side.  Serving at 1 all in the fourth, a low backhand return by Lopez forced Erlich to volley up resulting in break point. Furthermore, at this critical stage, pain in the elbow caused Erlich to request an injury time out. Soon, back at service line, Erlich surrendered his serve.  After consolidating, the Spaniards broke again to extend their lead to 4-1. A few games later, at love, Lopez punched his nation’s passage into the finals.

Today, as ordained by the rules, the remaining rubbers took place. In the initial one, Ferrer defeated Ram 6-3,6-1.  Israel avoided a shutout as Levy carried the second match 7-5, 6-2 over Lopez. Despite this outcome, the Israelis will look back on 2009 with fondness and great pride. Prior to being derailed by Spain, Israel registered victories over powerhouses Sweden and Russia.

Spain will battle Czech Republic, the latter makes it’s first appearance in the finals since 1980.  At that time, the territory was in one piece and called Czechoslovakia.  The Czechs also secured their entry into the final round on Saturday after winning all three rubbers. On Friday, Radek Stepanek tranquilized a hostile Croatian crowd, stared down 78 aces and took one minute shy of 6 hours before edging out Ivo Karlovic 6-7,7-6,7-6,6-7,16-14. On the heel of one of the longest matches in Davis Cup history, Tomas Berdych, not wanting to be outdone by his countryman, took down Marin Cilic 6-3,6-3,3-6,4-6,6-3 after 3hours and  48 minutes. Still with plenty of reserve, Berdych and Stepanek teamed up on Saturday in what must have seemed like a practice session to beat Lovro Zvoko and Cilic 6-1,6-3,6-4.  So today’s action featured two dead rubbers. Czech Jan Hajek defeated Roko Karnusic 7-6,6-4.  The home audience did not leave empty handed as Zvoko prevailed over Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 6-4.

The finals will be decided in December with Spain hosting the Czechs Republic.  Although both teams performed well on clay this weekend, the Spaniards with the best clay players around, even with Nadal sidelined, will be hard to be.  Therefore, it will take a formidable performance by the Czechs to prevent Spain from capturing it’s fourth cup this decade.

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