2017 Davis Cup QF Preview: France vs Great Britain


France vs Great Britain
Surface: Indoor Clay

Tie Lacks Star Power, But Should Feature Competitive Rubbers

On paper, seeing France battling Great Britain conjures up all sorts of dream match-ups. Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon or Gael Monfils tussling with an Andy Murray-led Great Britain. Eh, not so fast. France won’t feature any of those high octane performers and Murray is again sitting out for the Brits. The tie might be less interesting from a big name perspective, but it could actually wind up being more competitive.

France will be led by Lucas Pouille in singles. Nicolas Mahut, Jeremy Chardy and Pierre-Hugues Herbert round out the lineup. Mahut-Herbert will obviously carry the baton in doubles, but the second singles player will be an interesting choice. Chardy has just three Davis Cup rubbers to his credit with none since 2011. Mahut has just two singles rubbers amongst his seven overall matches in Davis Cup play. It was Gasquet and Simon who helped lead France to an easy 3-0 win over Japan in round one. Only Mahut-Herbert are back from that first round rubber in January. The draw announcement earlier on Thursday does show that the French will at least opener with Chardy as the second singles player.

The Brits will be more straight forward in who they are playing. We know singles will go to Daniel Evans and Kyle Edmund. Evans and Edmund led the Brits to victory over a Milos Raonic-less Canadian side in the first round. The Brits were forced to a fifth rubber in that one though that Edmund took home over inexperienced Denis Shapovalov in straight sets. Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot are set to reprise their doubles roles this weekend. They delivered a win against Canada and are 2-1 when paired together in DC play.

Pouille The Key

It’s an understatment that Lucas Pouille has a ton of pressure on him in this home tie. Since a semifinal run in Dubai, Pouille has reverted to his poor form from the start of the season. He lost to Donald Young in successive weeks in Indian Wells and Miami with just a single win to show during that Masters 1000 stretch. On top of that, France’s #1 for this weekend has won just one live Davis Cup rubber. He lost to Marin Cilic in last year’s semifinals, where Croatia edged France 3-2. Pouille also dropped. His first victory in DC play came in the quarterfinals in 2016 as he beat Czech Jiri Vesely to help France get past the Czech Republic 3-1.

As for potential match-ups this weekend, Pouille will face Edmund for the second time and Evans for the first. Edmund scored the win over Pouille to start this year in Brisbane when Pouille retired with a foot injury. Pouille should be healthy now, but hardly is in a much better place. Edmund arrives in mediocre form as well with a 7-8 mark on the season. Since the tie with Canada, Edmund went 3-4 on tour. No really poor losses, but no wins to indicate he can be counted on for sure to deliver a win this weekend. Evans comes in off a pretty poor loss to Ernest escobedo in the opening round in Miami a few weeks back. His form has dipped quite a bit since his fourth round run at the Australian Open, which came on the heels of a finals trip in Sydney.

So even with Pouille in poor form, he’s really no worse off than Evans or Edmund upon arrival this weekend. The big obvious boost for him is playing in front of the home crowd in Rouen. I’m not sure if the indoor clay surface will give him a major advantage. Edmund has proven he can win on clay in this setting with two of his career wins in Davis Cup play coming on clay last year against Serbia. Evans has just two rubbers on clay (1-1) and is far less comfortable on the surface compared to Edmund and Pouille, who might be the most comfortable on the surface among this weekend’s singles participants.

Chardy, The X-Factor

With Chardy’s inclusion on Day One, he is instantly the biggest wildcard to me for either side. His career is littered with a lot of disappointing results, but he’s shown enough ability to pull off monumental wins. The 2013 Australian Open still sticks out to me, where Chardy made the quarterfinals. Along the way, he scored a huge upset in round three over Juan Martin Del Potro. DelPo was coming off a 2012 season where he made the quarterfinals in three of the four Grand Slams that year, so it was a big scalp for the Frenchman.

Chardy doesn’t face a “big” name per say this weekend, so that does alleviate a little pressure that might cause him to crack in most cases. I think if France gets one win from him against either Evans on Day One or against Edmund on Day Three, they’re going to feel good that they will be in position to win the tie.

Dynamic Doubles Rubber On Tap

The highlight of the weekend really should be the doubles rubber between Mahut-Herbert and Murray-Inglot. You have four experienced and solid doubles players involved in that match. The French duo have had their struggles both on the ATP World Tour and this competition. On tour in 2017, the duo is 13-4, but lacks the big wins they saw at this point in 2016. In Davis Cup play, they are 2-1 together, but lost arguably the biggest match of last year’s semifinal against Croatia. That was a four set loss to Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic that put France down 2-1 and gave Cilic the close-out fourth rubber against Gasquet.

Murray-Inglot have been precise in winning their last two rubbers together in four sets. They almost lost famously 9-7 in a fifth set against the Bryan Brothers back in the World Group first round in 2015. Murray has retained a solid partnership on tour with Bruno Soares this season and arrives with consistently good form. Inglot’s season highlight on tour was making the Marseille doubles final alongside Robin Haase. They would lose in the super tiebreak to Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau. Inglot should be eager to see Mahut-Herbert as he lost 16-14 in a super breaker to the French pair last month in Miami with Florin Mergea as his partner.

This really is an intriguing clash and one all doubles lovers should salivate over. It’s difficult to call the winner here. Home court definitely will have Mahut-Herbert amped up, but Murray-Inglot have plenty of big match experience to call upon. This rubber may not ultimately decide who wins this tie, but the winners are likely to put their side within a win of advancing. That makes this a big momentum changer depending on what happens on Friday.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

The opener between Pouille and Edmund is a real tone setter for both countries. Pouille wants nothing more than to put his foot down and give France an early lead to keep the pressure of himself and Chardy in singles. The Brits realistically will be perfectly fine with a split on Friday, knowing they have every chance to win the doubles rubber and then need just one win Sunday to complete the road win.

I think the scary thing here is that this same duo of Edmund and Evans struggled in Canada against Vasek Pospisil. With all due respect to the slightly resurgent Canadian, Pouille is a better all-around player and poses a sizeable risk to the Brits. I think Edmund is capable of stealing one against Pouille, but Evans on clay doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Edmund may need to win twice for the Brits to advance, whereas I think Pouille and Chardy could split and then give Mahut-Herbert a chance to serve as difference makers.

That’s a more confortable equation for a win this weekend to me.

Prediction: France wins 3-2


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