Follow us at @WorldSportCNN and like us on Facebook
Roger Federer and Switzerland are one match away from winning a maiden Davis Cup
Federer and Stan Wawrinka won the doubles Saturday against France in Lille
Federer and Wawrinka defeat Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau in straight sets
Federer has the opportunity to close out the series as he plays Sunday's first singles
The stage is set for Roger Federer.
Arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, one of the two things missing from his resume – which must be a dozen pages if not longer – is a Davis Cup title.
But after his Switzerland beat France in the pivotal doubles tussle Saturday, the Swiss are one win away from wrapping up the final in Lille – and it’s Federer who has first crack at completing the job.
You wouldn’t possibly bet against him, would you?
“Nothing is done yet,” Federer told reporters. “We won the doubles match and we are preparing for tomorrow, as we have to do.”
Federer entered the final – one of the most anticipated in decades due to his presence and France’s love of tennis – under an injury cloud.
He was forced to withdraw from the final of the World Tour Finals last Sunday with a bad back and then looked unlike his usual self in a crushing loss to Gael Monfils on Friday.
Yet Federer was adamant he felt better as the match wore on against Monfils and hinted he wanted – and was ready – to play doubles.
Swiss captain Severin Luthi wasn’t about to go against the 17-time grand slam champion, and he was duly brought in alongside the surging Stan Wawrinka to replace the originally scheduled duo of Michael Lammer and Marco Chiudinelli.
The decision paid off, with Federer and Wawrinka snapping a four-match losing streak in doubles together in the Davis Cup by easing past Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau 6-3 7-5 6-4.
“I’m fine now,” Federer said when asked about his back. “I understand you want to know everything about it. But I know as much as you do.
“I’ve been very open and honest. For me it’s just about now whatever it feels like, I feel like I am at 100%. I’ll give it 100%. That’s all I can do right now.”
Only twice since 1990 has the nation trailing 2-1 in the final rallied to triumph, such is the task facing the bewildered Bleus.
“Nothing is broken,” French captain Arnaud Clement told reporters. “But it is a difficult situation. It’s tough to take. I can’t lie about that.
Gasquet has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the French tennis public. They were in awe of his ability and he rose to the fore by toppling Federer as an 18-year-old in Monte Carlo in 2005.
His hunger, willingness to fight and mental toughness have all been questioned, however, and the naysayers will have more ammunition following his display Saturday.
He was the least comfortable player on the court.
Clement has some serious thinking to do overnight, pondering who will battle Federer on Sunday.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is due to be that player, but Tsonga underwhelmed in a loss to Wawrinka on Friday and the head of the French Tennis Federation, Jean Gachassin, reportedly said the French No. 1 had an elbow injury.
It might explain why Tsonga didn’t play with Gasquet after they practiced together Saturday morning and excelled in doubles in the semifinals against the Czech Republic.
Gasquet was out of sorts in the doubles Saturday, and Clement would raise many an eyebrow if he opted for Benneteau.
Despite his good play in the doubles and possessing two wins over Federer, Benneteau’s record in singles finals – 0-10, which is an Open Era record of futility – hints he is unable to function at his best when the pressure is really on.
Benneteau’s serve was broken in the first set for the lone break, but Gasquet didn’t hit two volleys cleanly in the game, allowing the Swiss to pounce.
“I didn’t play an exceptional match today and I’m disappointed,” Gasquet told reporters.
It was nothing compared to the decisive second set, which began slightly late as Gasquet and Benneteau left the court for a toilet break.
France had five break points in three different games.
At 1-0 for France, Gasquet’s tame second-serve return let the Swiss off the hook.
At 2-1, Benneteau mistimed a forehand return into the net and Gasquet’s forehand down the line clipped the net and strayed wide. Chants of ‘Richard, Richard’ from most of the 27,360 in attendance at the Stade Pierre Mauroy – less than 100 fans short of Friday’s record number for a pro tennis match – prior to the return clearly didn’t work.
Then at 4-3, Gasquet’s return off a second serve failed to put the Swiss in any danger. Gasquet didn’t have much of an opportunity on the final break chance, with Wawrinka pummeling a serve.
With France reeling, the inevitable break for Switzerland came at 5-5 when Federer struck a backhand return winner.
“If Richard’s return didn’t hit the tape, the stadium would have gone crazy and the energy would have been different,” Benneteau said.
“It was tough to lose this second set because we had the feeling that we really could have won this one.”
There was no way back for France, and its fate was sealed when the Swiss broke for 3-2 in the third.
With Federer now looking sharper and the French in some disarray, the home team’s fate in the tie appears to be sealed, too.