November 25, 2017 / 6:06 PM / a year ago

Noah's gamble rewarded as France take Davis Cup lead

LILLE, France (Reuters) - France captain Yannick Noah gambled on an untested pair for the pivotal Davis Cup final doubles against Belgium on Saturday but Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert’s win ensured he was spared a “hot seat” as Les Bleus moved into the driving seat.

Tennis - Davis Cup Final - France vs Belgium - Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille, France - November 25, 2017 France captain Yannick Noah celebrates after France's Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert win their doubles match against Belgium's Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Despite a big scare in the third set, Noah’s chosen duo beat Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore 6-1 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4 as France moved 2-1 ahead and within one win of a 10th Davis Cup title before Sunday’s reverse singles.

Noah had been expected to pick either Julien Benneteau or Nicolas Mahut, with whom Herbert won two grand slam titles, but he surprisingly went for Gasquet instead, thus putting out a combination who had never played a competitive match together.

“It was a difficult decision because a lot of people did not have the same vision and even people within the group did not have the same vision,” Noah, who already led France to Davis Cup titles as captain in 1991 and 1996, told reporters.

Noah, however, stuck with his choice, which he made on Tuesday after Herbert and Gasquet showed great form at a training camp.

“It would have been much easier to make the politically correct decision and lose with honors,” he said.

“Personally, it’s good for me that they won because otherwise I would have been on a hot seat,” he added with a smile.

“We knew we’d have to be solid mentally,” said Gasquet. “We knew that we had everything to lose.”

Noah explained that Gasquet had been included in the team to replace Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Lucas Pouille in the singles in case of injury.

“This was a factor because I don’t think either of our three doubles specialists (Herbert, Benneteau and Mahut) would have been able to play a best-of-five set Davis Cup match on a Sunday,” he said.

Belgium captain Johan Van Herck defended his selection after deciding not to make room in the pair for the in-form Goffin.

“A doubles is about who can play well with who and my feeling was that Ruben and Joris were the best pair for us today,” he said.

France will win the title before the fifth match if Tsonga beats world number seven David Goffin after both impressed during their singles wins on Friday.

“He has been thinking about this match for a while now and when he thinks about it, he sees himself winning it,” said Noah. “He is ready.”

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ian Chadband

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