PARIS (Reuters) - France have a real chance of beating Switzerland in the Davis Cup final, even if Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka will stand in their way.
While the Swiss, who will play away, rely on the fitness of grand slam champions Federer and Wawrinka in the singles, the less illustrious French can boast impressive strength in depth.
Les Bleus, who knocked out holders Czech Republic 4-1 in the semi-final, have five top 30 players to choose from - an important consideration as yet another energy-sapping season draws to an end.
“France can choose the clay again, and they have five top players, so it’s 50-50,” said Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil.
Against the Czech Republic, who had won the two previous editions of the competition, France captain Arnaud Clement opted to leave Gael Monfils out of the first singles despite - or perhaps because of - his fine run at the US Open, where he reached the quarter-finals.
Instead, he picked a fresher Richard Gasquet to face world number six Tomas Berdych, who had also reached the last eight in New York the previous week and was lacking practice time on clay courts.
“Our strength is that the Czechs had to field Berdych while we could make do without Gael,” substitute Gilles Simon explained.
Indeed, Berdych seemed to struggle and lost to Gasquet in straight sets on Friday and was clearly the weak point in Saturday’s doubles.
After Gasquet defeated Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world number 12, gave France the second point with a straight-set victory over Lukas Rosol before both players paired up to beat Berdych and Radek Stepanek in four sets in Saturday’s doubles.
For the doubles, Clement had the luxury to leave French Open doubles champion Julien Benneteau out as he opted to bank Tsonga and Gasquet’s form.
There was no drama in the French camp when Clement announced that decision, any more than there had been when he chose to leave Monfils out.
“I had to be honest with my team mates, I did not feel it,” said Monfils. “I could not be at 100 percent on Friday. I said ‘You, Richard, you’ve been playing well. If I’m tired, Berdych had to be tired, too’.”
Clement listened and decided to pick Gasquet, who was impressive against Berdych and in the doubles.
“I am happy I have to make these choices,” he said.
Simon said Gasquet was fired up to be picked.
“He sees that we leave a strong player on the bench and the guy is not injured so it means he is not here by default. It gives you confidence,” said Simon. “Sending Richard on Friday was a collective decision.”
Tsonga believes this generation of French players, who have yet to win an individual grand slam title, has what it takes to claim a major one together.
“We want to prove that this generation can do great things,” said the 2008 Australian Open finalist.
“Tsonga is not just the player who lost to David Ferrer at Roland Garros, Gasquet is not just the player who played the match he played at the US Open (losing to Monfils in three sets in the third round), Monfils is not just an unpredictable player.
“The wide audience will not see us as favorites against Switzerland, but in our minds, we are the favorites.”
The final will be played in France from Nov. 21-23.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alan Baldwin