September 15, 2018 / 3:31 PM / 4 days ago

Champions France back in Davis Cup final with win over Spain

LILLE, France (Reuters) - Veteran pairing Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut booked France’s place in another Davis Cup final as they won the doubles to seal the champions’ 3-0 victory over Spain in their World Group semi-final on Saturday.

Tennis - Davis Cup - World Group Semi-Final - France v Spain - Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France - September 15, 2018 France's Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut celebrate winning their match, against Spain's Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez, and the Semi-Final REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The two 36-year-olds defeated another experienced duo in 32-year-old Marcel Granollers and 36-year-old Feliciano Lopez 6-0 6-4 7-6(7) to wrap up the tie before Sunday’s reverse singles.

It gives Yannick Noah’s team the opportunity to win the last Davis Cup to be played in its current traditional format, taking on either Croatia or the United States in November before the ‘men’s World Cup of tennis’ gets a major facelift next year.

Tennis - Davis Cup - World Group Semi-Final - France v Spain - Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France - September 15, 2018 France team captain Yannick Noah celebrates with the players after winning the Semi-Final REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

If Croatia, who lead the other semi-final in Zadar 2-1 going into Sunday’s final day, complete their expected victory, the final will again be in France, possibly back in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Noah said winning a fourth Davis Cup on home soil — his team also sealed victory in the Lille arena last year — would be a fitting way for him to leave the job and he reckoned his team were now playing their best tennis of his inspirational reign.

Whether Benneteau, who has come out of retirement to help the French cause, will be available to play in the final remains uncertain, though, despite his outstanding performance on Saturday.

“It’s quite possible today could be the last match of my career on tour, and what a way to finish,” he smiled, although he added that he would definitely be at the final, even if just as a cheerleader on the bench.

Tennis - Davis Cup - World Group Semi-Final - France v Spain - Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France - September 15, 2018 France captain Yannick Noah celebrates after France's Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut win their doubles match against Spain's Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Following victories for Benoit Paire and Lucas Pouille in Friday’s singles, Benneteau and Mahut, who won both their previous Davis Cup rubbers when teamed together, were fancied to finish the job in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

The pair are on the last lap of distinguished careers, with Benneteau having quit playing tour matches to take over the captaincy of France’s Fed Cup team next season.

He and Mahut began in dazzling fashion, taking the opening set in 18 minutes for the loss of just four points.

They captured their one break point to seal the second and after repelling a fightback from the Spaniards, who held a 4-1 lead in the third, the French duo won on their third match point as Benneteau’s brilliant backhand service return sealed the rubber and the tie.

“Julien and I have known each other for more than 20 years and we’ve dreamed of playing this kind of match. We didn’t play the final last year but today was history — and I think we’ll remember this one for ever,” said Mahut.

Editing by Tony Lawrence and Pritha Sarkar

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