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DAVIS CUP - Tsonga saves the Bleus, France and Serbia tied at 1-1

DAVIS CUP - Tsonga saves the Bleus, France and Serbia tied at 1-1

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by Alessandro Mastroluca

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saved a point for France in Lille. In the enormous Stade Pierre Mauroy, home to Ligue 1 club Lille OSC, at the end of the first day France and Lille are tied 1-1. Tsonga beat the Davis Cup debutant Laszlo Djere 7-6 6-3 6-3 and celebrated his 25th Davis Cup win.

Tsonga improved to 19-7 in singles climbing and tied Jean Borotra in 9th place on the list for most Davis Cup singles match-wins by a Frenchman. Lucas Pouille had started shockingly back to the North, in his own department, but his dramatic lack of confidence exposed his actual limits.

Like he did in Rouen facing the Great Britain in the quarter-finals, Pouille opened the tie against Serbia. All his pride in playing at home, however, vanquished as Lajovic beat him 6-1 3-6 7-6(7) 7-6(5) in 3 hours and four minutes.

Lajovic won the third live singles rubber in his Davis Cup experience, the eighth overall, and improved to 13-19 his win-loss record in best of five matches. The 15.000 viewers in a half-full 27,000-capacity stadium, watched helplessly as Lajovic converted two of the first five break points to lead 4-1 in the first set.

His first serve betrayed the Frenchman, soon down by a set. Pouille began the second set in a much more self-assured conduct. He upped the standard of his play to move 3-0 up. As Pouille's touch became more brilliant, Lavovic's errors started to increase and that calmed the tension among the French fans.

Not for too long, anyway. Pouille completed the match putting no more than 50 percent of first serves in, delivering 6 doubles faults and 70 unforced errors that frustrated his gameplan and the expected variations. Lajovic continued to express his touch and qualities, and despite his consistent game based on solid groundstrokes he appeared as the most attack-minded player on court.

Pouille dug deep from 1-4 down and, with Lajovic serving for a two-sets-to-one lead, offered a low backhand that barely bounces to win a tough point and then forced a tiebreak after a Lajovic error. A mini break comes the Frenchman's way but Lajovic hits back to level the tiebreak 1-1 and then leads it 2-1 with a service winner.

Another booming serve helped Pouille to save a set point at 5-6, but two consecutive forehand errors gifted him a two sets to one lead. The stadium became suddenly silent, and nobody enjoyed the silence. When Lajovic went 2-0 and the 5-2 up in the fourth, the gloomy atmoshere surrounded everything.

After a sensational point, playing an incredible drop-shot volley off a ball slammed straight at him by Pouille, Lajovic had match point on his serve, only to overcook a forehand and bring up deuce. Pouille put the match back on level terms and saved three match points on serve.

His choices showed a mix of fear and desire but when a weary smash took Lajovic to 5-4, his chances went almost to zero. The Serbian needed some attention to his foot, but Pouille missed the last chance to change the scenario.

His error on the next point gave him two further match points and finally, at the sixth chance, thanks to the 33rd winner he gave Serbia the opening point Jo-Wilfried Tsonga needed an hour to notch the first set against the unsung Laslo Djere, playing his first ever Davis Cup match.

He opened the match enthusiastically, breaking Tsonga, in his maiden singles rubber this year, with a deft lob to lead 4-2. The French crowd, a bit shoched, reacted and helped the homegrown player to break back immediately and held to level at 4-4.

Gradually more and more solid, Tsonga dominated the tiebreak 7-2 and led by two breaks at 3-0 in the second. Looking free and self-assured, Tsonga relied on massive serves and powerful groundstrokes to outmuscle the Serbian, who suffered when the highest ranked French player available attack him off the forehand side.

Djere would need to change rhythm, to use backhand to backhand intensive rallies to take the initiative. Tsonga, instead, tookmtime away from him and with two unreturned first deliveries obtained a couple of set points in a row and completed the two sets lead serving his seventh ace of the match.

Tsonga has lost just once in 95 matches after winning the first two sets, to Wawrinka at 2011 Roland Garros. Djere didn't fit the profile to be the second. So, when he sent a backhand long at the end of a hard-fought rally, Tsonga knew to have his fate in his hands.

His grip became even more solid, and his smile at the end of the match sounded as a huge sigh of relief. .

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