PARIS: France swept aside Switzerland and Chile crushed Sweden as the Davis Cup group stage finals got underway on Tuesday. Serbia, with Sunday’s US Open champion Novak Djokovic taking a well-earned breather, were equally emphatic winners over South Korea while the Netherlands felled Finland 2-1. The top two from each of the 16-team four group round robin will move into the knockout phase in Spain in November. And 10-time previous titleholders France made the best possible start to their Group B campaign in Manchester.
In front of massed ranks of empty seats – as the home crowd awaited the arrival on court of Andy Murray and his Great Britain team’s clash with Australia on Wednesday – France gave Switzerland short shrift. Adrian Mannarino got the ball rolling for Sebastien Grosjean’s team, despatching 21-year-old Dominick Stricker who made the last 16 at the US Open at Flushing Meadows, in three sets, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Making reference to the near-deserted arena Mannarino said: “I wasn’t expecting such a small crowd, it was almost cold out on court”.
Ugo Humbert made it 2-0 for the French when beating Stan Wawrinka, 38, who delivered the Davis Cup for Switzerland alongside Roger Federer in 2014, 6-4, 6-4, saving a match point before succumbing. Earlier Warwinka had also drawn attention to the sparse turnout, poking fun at the former organisers of the Davis Cup, ex-footballer Gerard Pique’s Kosmos company. The three-time Grand Slam champion played in Switzerland’s 2014 triumph, when they beat France in the final, under the old format of knock-out ties played home and away.
Kosmos changed the tournament format in 2019 to include a group stage which is now played in several cities across Europe. It has been widely criticised for late finishes and smaller crowds. “Thank you Gerard Pique and the ITF!… lol,” Wawrinka posted on social media, along with a video showing the largely empty Manchester Arena. The French wrapped up their 3-0 win in the doubles with Nicolas Mahut and Davis Cup debutant Edouard Roger-Vasselin seeing off Wawrinka and Marc-Andrea Huesler 6-2, 6-2.
“It’s the best way to start the competition,” said captain Grosjean. “We have a day to prepare for (28-time winners) Australia – we’re going to watch the matches tomorrow and then give 100 percent on Thursday,” he added. In Bologna, Chile made an early statement in a Group A which includes reigning champions Canada and hosts Italy. Christian Garin was made to sweat for his opening 7-6 (8/6), 3-6, 7-5 win over Leo Borg, the 20-year-old son of the legendary Bjorn Borg.
Nicolas Jarry had an easier time of it sending Elias Ymer packing with the loss of only six games before Marcelo Tomas Barrios and Alejandro Tabilo took the closing doubles 6-4, 7-5. For Jarry this was the latest high in what has been a “rollercoaster” few weeks. Last month he had to pull out of Cincinnati to attend the birth of his second child. He then flew to New York for the US Open, returned hom after losing in the third round, before flying to Bologna, arriving with his luggage missing.
“I’m very happy, very emotional, a rollercoaster of things happening, travel and beautiful things,” he smiled. With Djokovic sitting out the group phase Serbia relied on Dusan Lajovic and Laslo Djere in the singles and doubles pairing Nikola Cacic and Miomir Kecmanovic to sweep past South Korea 3-0 in Valencia.
In Split, Finland’s Otto Virtanen won the opening singles but the Dutch fought back with Tallon Griekspoor levelling and Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop completing a tense win in the closing doubles. On Wednesday, Australia, face Murray’s Great Britain, Croatia take on Italy, Spain – missing Carlos Alcaraz – are up against the Czech Republic, with Croatia playing the United States, the record 32-time winners but who last lifted the coveted trophy 16 years ago. – AFP