NOT even Roger Federer could have penned a script better than this: the sport’s greatest player leads his nation towards its first Davis Cup victory, rising from his bed of pain to beat a back injury and play on all three days of the final against France.
Just for good measure, he served out for victory in the doubles yesterday to give Switzerland a 2-1 lead going into the final day. Federer, partnered by Stan Wawrinka, thrashed Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 – and in six of the last seven Davis Cup finals where the first day has ended all square, the team that has won the doubles has gone on to win the cup.
If the ever-confident Federer needed a fillip going into today’s singles, that little fact might just do the job.
On Friday, Federer had been crushed by Gael Monfils in three swift, one-sided sets, but, remarkably, he had been in a very jolly mood afterwards. The loss was not important (Wawrinka had won the opening rubber and banked a point for Switzerland); what mattered was that Federer had been able to play a full match despite the back problems that had forced him to pull out of the ATP Tour Finals last weekend. The longer Friday’s match went on, the better he felt until, by the end, he knew he was going to be all right for the rest of the tie.
“It was just overall fear that you play with after coming back from injury, and particularly the back,” he said. “You don’t have to be in unbelievably excruciating pain, but it takes a while for it to leave your mind. It’s like a ghost, it’s there, whoa, be careful. But that’s why it was good for me to play three sets. Definitely gives us a lot of information”
And with that information squirrelled away, Federer was free to play as he wished for the rest of the weekend. His first challenge was the doubles and where he had looked stiff and tentative the day before, yesterday he was sliding and lunging with abandon, flinging himself around at the net to put away his volleys, leathering his forehand and hitting his backhand to perfection.
Better still, Wawrinka was matching him, winner for winner. It was not bad for a doubles partnership that had lost their last four Davis Cup outings in a run going back to 2011.
The French had their chances – five break points in the 56-minute second set being most of them – but they crumbled under the pressure. Gasquet, a man of unique talents but with all the fighting qualities of a garden pea (a coeur de pois through and through) was the main culprit. He had looked scared on the opening day when his only duty was to cheer on his comrades but when called upon to play, he looked absolutely terrified. It was his serve that cracked in that second set and once the Swiss went 2-0 up, there was no way the French were going to catch them.
The question now is who Federer will have to play today. The word from the French camp yesterday morning was that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would partner Gasquet for the doubles. But Tsonga had played like a plank on Friday and had looked hopeless in practice all week. He never made the cut and there is every chance that he will not be put forward to face Federer in the reverse singles.
It that happens, it leaves only Benneteau or Gasquet to choose from: Benneteau has a 6-2 losing record against the world No.2 and Gasquet has a 12-2 losing record.
The Davis Cup is a team competition, but, as Federer plays first today, there is only one name on everybody’s lips – this is Federer’s moment to win the cup for Switzerland.
As scripts go, Federer could not have wished for a better one.