LILLE, France: France kept their Davis Cup final hopes alive as Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat Croatian pair Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic 6-4 6-4 3-6 7-6(3) in a tense doubles battle in a raucous Stade Pierre Mauroy on Saturday.
Yannick Noah’s champions had their backs against the wall after losing both Friday’s singles but Herbert and Mahut began the fightback, reducing the deficit to 2-1 and ensuring the last Davis Cup in its present guise will stretch into Sunday.
The odds are still stacked in Croatia’s favour as no team has recovered from 2-0 down to win the trophy since Australia beat the United States in 1939.
But with 26,000 mainly flag-waving French fans set to flock back into the cavernous home of Lille’s football club on Sunday, hope still remains that Noah can sign off after his third stint in charge by delivering the 11th title for France.
Reminded that history is not on France’s side, Noah sounded the rallying cry for the final day when Lucas Pouille is likely to be recalled to play the fourth rubber against Marin Cilic.
“We have to try to visualise a positive outcome to win the whole thing,” Noah, whose team have won seven successive ties since a semi-final defeat by Croatia in 2016, told reporters.
“It’s a difficult task, a mountain to climb. But you saw today, the fans got involved.
“That can be positive for us and negative for the other side. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we’re thankful we are playing a match tomorrow that still counts.”
An afternoon that began with Noah crying during La Marseillaise ended with the French fans belting out the anthem after French Open champions Mahut and Herbert just held it together long enough to seal a crucial victory.
It had looked like being a relatively comfortable win for the French duo when they had points for a double break in the third set, having won the first two in dominant fashion.
But Pavic and Dodig, who had partnered Cilic to a crucial win over Mahut and Herbert when the sides met in Zadar in 2016, clawed their way back to set home nerves jangling.
Herbert faltered when serving at 3-4, allowing the Croats to break serve and then hold with ease to the delight of their noisy followers high in the upper tiers.
Alarm bells were ringing at the start of the fourth when France had to save three break points on the Herbert serve and he was again made to work hard at 2-2 as the momentum of the match began to swing Croatia’s way.
France kept their noses in front, though, and the fans ratcheted up the decibel levels as Pavic served at 4-5.
The Croat, yet to win a Davis Cup tie, duly buckled with a double fault at 0-30 and bedlam broke out in the stands with opposing fan clubs trying to out-sing each other.
With umpire James Keothavong struggling to keep order, Pavic showed incredible guts as he and Dodig somehow dug themselves out of a seemingly impossible position to make it 5-5.
Boos rang out as Pavic gestured defiantly at the massed ranks of blue amid the suspicion that Croatia would be favourites to win the rubber if they could take the tiebreak.
Yet Mahut and Herbert jumped into a 4-1 lead and though the Croatians got it back to 4-3, the French pair then kept their cool with Mahut’s reflex volley sealing the win.