Defending champions France and Croatia are on the brink of reaching the Davis Cup final after they each went 2-0 up in their respective semi-finals against Spain and the United States today.
Benoit Paire, who was considered a risky pick by France captain Yannick Noah, saw off an injured Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets to give his country a 1-0 lead, before Lucas Pouille beat Roberto Bautista-Agut in tight five-set contest to double their advantage at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille.
Borna Coric beat Steve Johnson in three sets to put Croatia ahead in their tie at the Krešimir Ćosić Hall in Zadar, before the home side’s star man Marin Cilic beat Frances Tiafoe, also in straight sets, as the hosts seized control.
Paire, on his Davis Cup debut, dispatched Carreno Busta 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 in less than two hours.
“I’ve waited a long time for this and it’s a dream to win on my debut,” Paire said afterwards.
“I never had the choice before now [to play for France] and though it’s been a long time, hopefully it’s not too late for me and I’ll get more chances.”
The world number 54 was initially under pressure in the first set,making nine double faults and falling 5-3 behind.
The Frenchman saved three set points on his way to levelling the set at 5-5, before a reccurring abductor injury severely hampered Carreno Busta’s chances and allowed Paire to run away with the match.
Following that heavily one-sided affair, Pouille, who is currently ranked 19th in the world avenged a straight-sets loss to Bautista-Agut earlier in the year by beating the same opponent, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
It means Spain, who are without their world number one Rafael Nadal, now face a sizable task to get themselves back into the tie, while France in contrast will seal their place in the 2018 final if they win the first doubles rubber tomorrow.
Coric beat Johnson in the opening rubber of their tie 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 to put his country 1-0 up before Cilic won the second 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(5).
That match was umpired by Portugal’s Carlos Ramos, who was accused of sexism for docking Serena Williams a game in the US Open final last week.
World number 18 Coric started impressively and maintained his form in the first rubber, eventually taking the match in two hours and 24 minutes.
Cilic then came out and roared two sets ahead as Tiafoe clearly struggled to shake off his Davis Cup debut nerves.
Tiafoe rallied in the third to take it to a tie break, but was unable to prevent Cilic taking the match 6-1, 6-3, 7-6.