My Davis Cup weekend: France vs Serbia

Three years after the historic France-Switzerland Davis Cup final, the Stade Pierre Mauroy hosts the semifinal between France and Serbia. The stadium usually hosts LOSC (Lille football team) home matches, and the maintenance team had only 72 hours to transform the field from that:

to that: (source: La Voix des Sports)

to that:

And they did quite an impressive job in such a short time. If you want a behind the scenes look at the stadium, check out this article: Stade Pierre Mauroy guided tour.

Let's talk about football

Formed in 1944 through a merger of two city clubs, Olympique Lillois ans Sporting Club Fivois, LOSC (Lille Olympique Sporting Club) won the French league in 1946 and 1954, and the cup five times. But since 1955, success eluded them. In 2011, with a young Eden Hazard in the team, they won the Ligue 1 for the first time in more than 50 years. A month earlier they won the coupe de France, beating PSG in the final. It will be interesting to see what they'll do this year under the guidance of their new coach Marcelo "el loco" Bielsa.

The French players have been really lucky so far this year: they beat Japan playing without Nishikori, Great Britain without Andy Murray, and they now face Serbia without Djokovic, Troicki and Tipsarevic! Dusan Lajovic will act as Serbia's No. 1 player, Davis Cup debutant Laslo Djere, while captain Nenad Zimonjic will pair up with Filip Krajinovic in the doubles match. I was quite confident that it would be an easy ride for France, that both Tsonga and Pouille would win the singles rubbers, Herbert and Mahut would secure the win and send France to the final. Well, let's say things didn't go as well as expected.

Friday, September 15. Day 1

Lajovic defeats Pouille 6-1 3-6 7-6 7-6

First surprise: the stadium is a bit ... empty, even the official supporters are a bit late. There are two group of fans in fact: the original one, the ASEFT and the one sponsored by BNP Paribas, the We are tennis academy. The atmosphere is lukewarm, nothing do to with the crazy crowd of the 2014 Davis Cup final, and Pouille did nothing to "ignite" the crowd.
It starts badly for local hero Lucas Pouille (he was born and raised about 80km away form Lille): 0-4 in 15 minutes, 1-6 in 25 minutes. The Frenchman somehow wakes up to win the second set and I think: "OK, that's it, he is in the match now". But no, Pouille was just awful: his forehand didn't hurt his opponent, his backhand was useless, he had no tactics and kept playing drop shots after drop shots. The result: 70 unforced errors in 4 sets, it was just horrible. The quality of play was rather one of a challenger tournament than a Davis Cup semifinal.
A match to forget for Pouille, whose game and attitude are somewhat concerning for someone who claims his goal is to win a Grand Slam title.

Tsonga defeats Djere 7-6 6-3

Everybody in the stadium was quite stunned by Pouille's defeat, and not really reassured by Tsonga's start of the match: break for Djere who leads 4-2. What the hell is happening?
The stadium has gradually filled, and Tsonga now dominates the game. The match is quite pleasant to watch, and the Serbian doesn't seem impressed by the crowd (around 13,000) or his opponent. Tsonga is solid on serve and from the baseline, and levels the tie with a straight sets win. But as I go back home, I'm a bit worried about France's level of play.

Before Djokovic, Zivojinovic

Of course, you can't compare their respective winning records, but Slobodan Zivojinovic made a lasting impact on tennis fan around the world. If you used to watch tennis in the 80's, you surely remember this charismatic player known for his massive serve. Semifinalist at the Australian Open in 1985 and Wimbledon in 1986, he's also famous for an incident involving John McEnroe.
In their quarterfinal match at the '85 Australian Open, McEnroe argued with the umpire and called for the tournament referee. Bobo, as Zivojinovic is known, simply joined some spectators in a courtside box and had a sandwich. "You know how McEnroe is. Every match he tries to do the same things," he said. "I just sat down." Zivojinovic won the match, 6-0 in the fifth set.

Saturday, September 16. Day 2

Herbert/Mahut defeat Krajinovic/Zimonjic 6-1 6-2 7-6

This match was played with the roof closed, and the atmosphere was much hotter than the day before!
This time, there is no suspense, the French pair of Herbert and Mahut is far superior and they easily win in three sets. 2-1 for France! Let's cross the fingers so that Tsonga wins against Lajovic, because my nerves won't manage a decisive fifth rubber.

First time on clay

The Germany vs France contest in Wiesbaden on 3, 4 and 5 June 1913 was the first occasion on which a Davis Cup tie was played on a surface other than grass; in this case, clay. Though tennis had been played in Germany for about thirty years, it was for much of that time more a social game than a sport. Now, under the patronage of Kaiser Wilhem, it was flourishing. The German team (Oscar Kreuzer, F. W. Rahe and Heinrich Kleinschroth) defeated France (André Gobert, Max Decugis, Maurice Germot) 4-1. Source: The story of the Davis Cup by Alan Trengorve

Sunday, September 17. Day 3

Tsonga defeats Lajovic 2-6 6-2 7-6 6-2

The first two sets looked like the repeat of Pouille's match against Lajovic on Friday. Thanks to his good serve, Tsonga was able to stay in the match in the third because, honestly, he was dominated in the rallies by Lajovic. The win of the third set was key and the mountain was too high to climb for the Serbian. Tsonga wins in four, but how tough it was!
Unfortunately cameras are forbidden inside the stadium but here are a few pictures I took with my phone. On the second to last picture, you can see a VIP lounge, and on the last pic, you can see the maintenance team taking possession of the court to rehabilitate the stadium so that the LOSC can play the following weekend.

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

Stade Pierre Mauroy

A few more thoughts on my Davis Cup weekend

On the good side, I must say the organization was just perfect: from the security guys to the people at the food stans, everybody just did a great job, and with a smile too! I also want to congratulate the Serbian team who did a good job, without their best players, and without fans. But there are a few things that annoyed me:
- loads of people did not stand up for the Serbian anthem. That is so disrespectful.
- half the stadium booed Lajovic when he beat Pouille. Seriously what is wrong with you people?
- captain Noah who did not talk at all with Tsonga during matches and did his little show during press conferences, explaining everything was so fantastic in his team...
- no explanation on why the fifth match was not played, a simple "Merci et au revoir" and that's it
- no on court interviews with the players and generally a lack of communication between the players and the crowd. They didn't even spend a bit of time with the two group of supporters who carried them the all weekend

And now Belgium ... in Lille

As soon as Belgium's comeback win over Australia was known, people began speculating on the city that would host the incoming final. There were in fact only two canditates: the new U Arena in Nanterre and the Stade Pierre Mauroy. And the suspense was quite short as the French Federation announced the Stade Pierre Mauroy would host the final (again!), but this time on indoor hard court and with a capacity of 27,000 seats.
I'll do my best to get tickets, it would be my third Davis Cup final in four years, not bad, what do you think?

Hoping you enjoyed the read, please like and share and stay tuned for more Davis Cup adventures.

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