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Paire to open for France against Spain in Davis Cup semis

Updated September 14, 2018


(From L) FRENCH players Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers pose for photographers behind the Davis Cup in Villeneuve-d’Ascq on Thursday, after the draw for the Davis Cup semi-final. The two sides will compete for a place in the Cup final from September 14 to 16.—AP
(From L) FRENCH players Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers pose for photographers behind the Davis Cup in Villeneuve-d’Ascq on Thursday, after the draw for the Davis Cup semi-final. The two sides will compete for a place in the Cup final from September 14 to 16.—AP

LILLE: Benoit Paire will debut for France in the Davis Cup semi-finals on Friday, two years after being sent home from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Paire was picked instead of Richard Gasquet, and will play the opening singles for the defending champions against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain on an indoor hard court in the northern city of Lille.

Lucas Pouille, who won the decisive fifth match in the 2017 final, will then play Roberto Bautista Agut.

The hot-tempered Paire was sent home from the Rio Olympics after the French Tennis Federation accused him of breaking team rules, but France Davis Cup captain Yannick Noah said he fitted in well in his squad.

“We also wait to see when he will break five or six rackets,” Noah joked during the news conference at the draw on Thursday. “You are going to enjoy it, you’ll see my face, it is going to be funny. We’ve decided that it should not be more than three rackets per set.”

In the doubles on Saturday, Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut are set to face Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez. In the reverse singles, Pouille is scheduled to take on Carreno Busta, while Paire should be up against Bautista Agut. Noah has the option to use Gasquet on Sunday.

Croatia host US in other semi-final

Spain are without top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who was ruled out because of the right knee injury that forced him to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro last week.

“I thought Gasquet would be playing,” said Spain captain Sergi Bruguera, who previously worked with the French player on the tour. “But I’m sure they gave it a deep thought. Both teams can win the five points, it will be a very open semi-final.”

The tie is at the 27,500-seat Pierre Mauroy Stadium, with the roof closed.

France won their 10th Davis Cup title last year in the same venue, beating Belgium 3-2.

The teams are meeting for the ninth time, with Spain leading 6-2.

Croatia is hosting the United States in the other semi-final in Zadar where Serena Williams isn’t getting much support from the men on the US’team over her insinuation that sexism played a role in the code violations she received during the US Open final.

Then again, Steve Johnson, Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison are trying their best to stay out of the debate since Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire who penalised Williams, is also handling their semi-final against Croatia this weekend.

“It’s been polarized and in some ways politicised,” US captain Jim Courier said on Thursday. “But we have no doubt that Carlos was just enforcing the rules as he sees them.”

Williams was given three code violations by Ramos in her straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka last Saturday, and Williams and critics inside and outside of tennis argued that she wasn’t treated the same as some male players.

“Look, I don’t want this to come out the wrong way,” Johnson said. “But he enforced rules that have been enforced on me over the years.

“I’ve never been called for coaching, but the racket abuse, the verbal abuse,” Johnson added. “That’s just part of the sport. I think a lot of it maybe got over-amplified because it was the finals of the US Open.”

USTA president and CEO Katrina Adams was overheard apologising to Ramos on the sidelines of the draw ceremony. A USTA spokesman said Adams was not speaking to media, while Ramos was not available for questions.

Courier said there was nothing to discuss with his team over Ramos.

“We’re here to play; Carlos is here to umpire; and we don’t expect anything out of the ordinary,” Courier said.

While Ramos is known as a stickler for the rules, the US team won’t have to worry about coaching violations since captains sit court-side during Davis Cup matches and are permitted to give advice throughout the match.

“He’s always been a fair, level-headed guy and made a decision in the heat of the moment. If it was wrong or right, I’m not the judge,” said Bryan, a doubles specialist.

“I think we’re all cognizant of the fact that three strikes and you’re going to get a game penalty,” Bryan added. “I don’t think we would ever try to push it that far, especially in this Davis Cup format we’re not going to dock our country a game. You don’t really crack rackets or berate umpires in this format; you kind of look to your team for support.”

Marin Cilic, Croatia’s top player, also had nothing but respect for Ramos. Although Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, noted: “I’m not a guy that gets too many code violations. ... I’m quite cool.”

The 51st-ranked Harrison, who was called in as a late replacement for the injured Jack Sock, said the women’s final ‘was a very touchy situation’.

“It’s hard to say one side or the other without causing a big stir,” Harrison said. “In a situation where we know Serena is unbelievable; she’s iconic; and we know that Carlos is there because he’s worthy of being there for those matches.

“I know Carlos and I know he’s not looking to put himself in a difficult position. I truly believe he was trying to do what he felt like was right at the time and always in heated situations it’s going to be a very sticky, sticky spot whenever it’s in a Grand Slam final like that.”

Against Croatia, Johnson will face Borna Coric in Friday’s opening singles match, followed by Cilic versus Davis Cup debutant Frances Tiafoe.

In Saturday’s doubles, Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic will face Bryan and Harrison. The reverse singles are on Sunday.

The Americans are missing their top two players — No. 10 John Isner is staying home while his wife awaits the birth of their child, and Sock hurt his hip en route to winning the US Open doubles title with Bryan.

“The one thing we know about Davis Cup is that rankings rarely matter,” Courier said. “Davis Cup is highly unpredictable and playing for your country can affect people in different ways, shapes and forms.”

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018