Paris: Davis Cup rookie Benoit Paire helped holders France to a 2-0 semi-final lead over Spain with Croatia in command against the United States by the same margin after Friday’s opening singles.
France captain Yannick Noah had admitted that handing Paire a Davis Cup debut in a semi-final was “not an easy choice” but the gamble paid off handsomely.
The bearded 29-year-old enjoyed what he termed “a dream” 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Pablo Carreno Busta to get Noah’s defending champions off to a perfect start in less than two hours.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” smiled Paire, the world number 54 who showed no signs of the hot-headed streak that cost him a $16,500 fine for an epic three-smashed-racket meltdown in Washington last month.
“I never had the choice before now and though it’s been a long time, hopefully it’s not too late for me and I’ll get more chances.”
If Paire’s win was straightforward, Lucas Pouille’s nerve-jangling five-set victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut in the following match was anything but.
The French number one fought back from losing the first set to win 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and leave France one point away from a date in the final in November.
Pouille took to the court at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy after an indifferent build-up and he struggled to find consistency, his play ranging from the sublime to the not so sublime.
His 87 unforced errors only complicated his task but he never relented and his persistency prevailed.
He recovered well from losing the first set to level on the tiebreak. Then followed his best form to go 2-1 up, only to let his Spanish rival back in the game in the fourth.
Breaking at 5-4 in the finale he still required three match points to put France’s second point up on the board, to the delight of the home fans after a classic three hours and 41 minutes of Davis Cup action.