Benoit Paire made a remarkable Davis Cup debut for France, outplaying Pablo Carreno-Busta 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 in the opening rubber of the World Group semi-final tie against Spain at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Friday.
Paire had never been selected for his country in the ‘World Cup of tennis’ before, admitting himself that his explosive, erratic performances on court meant he could previously never properly be trusted.
Yet he has grown into a much more reliable and consistent performer in 2018 which prompted the champions’ captain Yannick Noah to select him for his first tie at the unlikely age of 29 and he was rewarded with a virtuoso performance against a doughty opponent.
Playing with real flair, not holding back and looking as if he was made for Davis Cup theatrics, Paire also showed real heart when struggling in the first set as he three times had to battle back from a set point down.
Paire, the world number 54, started with predictable unpredictability, delivering nine double faults in the opening set but after saving the set points with steel, the bearded shotmaker was freed to play his most attractive tennis.
From 3-5 down, he rallied to win the next nine games and, in total, 16 of the last 17 as his all-court attacking approach made Carreno Busta seem flat-footed and just a little lost as he succumbed in less than two hours.
Lucas Pouille, who annexed the winning point in last year’s final in the same stadium, was next on court, hoping to give the champions a 2-0 lead against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Cilic and Coric give Croatia flying start in Davis Cup semi
Marin Cilic gave Croatia a stranglehold over the United States as he beat Frances Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(5) to put the hosts 2-0 ahead in their Davis Cup semi-final in Zadar on Friday.
Cilic overwhelmed the American youngster in the opening two sets but was made to work harder in the third as Tiafoe finally shook off his debut nerves.
The match was umpired by Portugal’s Carlos Ramos — the official accused of sexism by American Serena Williams after docking her a game during a tumultuous U.S. Open final.
Thankfully for Ramos this match was a more tranquil affair, apart from the noisy Croatian crowd cheering on their man.
Cilic’s victory made him Croatia’s most successful Davis Cup player, moving him past the 36 rubbers won by Ivan Ljubicic.
Earlier Borna gave Croatia a flying start by defeating Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-3 in the opening rubber.
The 21-year-old Coric had lost his only previous encounter with the U.S. number three at Roland Garros but on Zadar’s clay courts drew first blood for the hosts against Johnson, who was leading his country in the absence of John Isner and Jack Sock.
Coric’s emphatic win just underlined why the Croats, who had won all their four previous ties with the Davis Cup’s most successful nation, were overwhelming favourites to repeat the dose and reach the final of the last Davis Cup to be played in its traditional historic format before next year’s revamp.
World number 18 Coric was impressive from the start, taking an early break for 2-1, aided by Johnson missing plenty of first serves, and controlling the 35-minute opening stanza.
The youngster brought the crowd to their feet with one extraordinary ‘tweener’ lob that left Johnson flat-footed as he earned another quick break in the second set but the American fought back strongly to take it to a tiebreak.
Coric again stepped up his game, reeling off the final four points of the breaker, featuring a glorious forehand winner and a fine volley, to seal it 7-4.
He then forged home his advantage over the world number 30 in the third set to wrap up victory in two hours and 24 minutes.