There are border wars, but the France-Switzerland Davis Cup final that begins on Friday will travel all the way across those two countries' border and back. The French team is filled with players who make their residences, for tax purposes, on Swiss soil. The top player from Switzerland, Roger Federer, is something akin to a deity in Paris. The Swiss players speak French, and most of the guys on both teams have been speaking it to each other, and playing each other, since before they were teenagers. They all seem, legitimately, to get along.

That mixed-up quality mirrors the tie itself: It’s hard to remember a less predictable Davis Cup final. Each of the four starting singles players—Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils—has beaten both of his prospective opponents at least twice. The surface, clay, should only equalize things more; Federer is still the best of this bunch on dirt, but he doesn’t tower over Tsonga or Monfils on it the way he has on other surfaces. Plus, he’ll go into his first rubber tomorrow having had just two practice sessions since hurting his back and pulling out of the London final on Sunday.

There will be another border war in the stands inside the 27,000-seat stadium in Lille. The majority of noise will come from the French, of course (and not in favor of Federer this time), but a Swiss contingent will make themselves heard. One of their compatriots who won’t be making noise, apparently, is Mirka Federer, who isn't scheduled to be at the tie. Maybe that’s good news for Wawrinka.

We’ve been due for this final, and so have these teams. The Swiss, whose singles players have 18 Grand Slam titles between them, are looking to win their country's first Davis Cup. The French, one of the original quartet of Cup-winning nations, is looking for its first since 2001, and first with this group of musketeers. Federer himself is looking for a late-career capstone; aside from Jimmy Connors, every other man with eight majors or more has his name on the Cup. And while he has had an excellent season, Federer has come up short in the biggest events in 2014; he could wipe that away with a win here.

It’s hard to think of a better way to end the tennis year.

Border War

Border War


Going by their rankings, their seasons, and their most recent play, Wawrinka should be the favorite in this battle of streaky momentum players. Going by their head-to-head, this should be a toss-up; Tsonga leads 3-2,  and they’re 2-2 on clay. Going by their Davis Cup records, you might want to put your money on Jo. He’s 16-4 in singles, and 5-1 in 2014. Stan is 20-13 in singles for his career, but he has struggled this year, going 2-3 overall in Switzerland’s last two ties. Tsonga needs energy to play well, and he’ll never get more of it from a crowd than he will this weekend. But he also hasn’t played since October. Jo may have to overcome a slow start; he has, and hasn’t, done that many times before.

There’s a physical and psychological component to the issue of Federer’s back. Obviously, it could keep him from playing his best, or keep him from playing at all. But if it does feel OK, it could help take some of the pressure off of him. The reports are that it’s chilly in the cavernous Lille stadium, which won’t help.

Federer leads Monfils 8-2 for their career, and is 4-0 against him on clay. But as you may remember, Monfils was up two sets to love and had match points the last time they faced off, at the U.S. Open in September. La Monf will feed on the French crowd, as he always does; but he’ll have to avoid the lows that typically come with his highs in three-out-of-five-setters—or at least keep them from becoming extended lows. Federer is 37-7 in Davis Cup singles; Monfils is 9-2, but he has played just one live rubber since 2010.

Border War

Border War

Right now this is slated to pit Julien Benneteau/Richard Gasquet for France against Marco Chuidinelli/Michael Lammer for Switzerland. What are the chances this is the match we’ll see? Chuidinelli is ranked No. 212, Lammer No. 508. In Switzerland’s previous two ties, Wawrinka partnered with Federer, and then with Chuidinelli. They lost both times. Here is where France’s depth should be telling. Gasquet is 4-0 (2-0 in singles, 2-0 in doubles) in Davis Cup this year.

Federer leads their head-to-head 11-5, and is 2-1 against Tsonga on clay. Earlier this year in Monte Carlo, he wriggled out of a 2-6 opening set to beat Jo in three, but Tsonga held firm against Federer in the Toronto final. The last time they played at the French Open, in 2013, Tsonga won in straights. The variables here: Federer’s back, Tsonga’s start. If Federer can’t go at all, Switzerland’s next-highest-ranked player is Chuidinelli at No. 212.

If it comes down this this, it will be...interesting, to say the least. Both of these guys are capable of playing some of the world’s best tennis, and both are capable of going all the way in the other direction—Monfils often gives you his best and worst in the space of two sets. La Monf has played in a Davis Cup final before, in Serbia in 2010. He went 1-1, but didn’t have to play the final rubber. Wawrinka leads their head-to-head 3-2, but they’ve never faced each other on clay, and Stan has never played a Davis Cup final.

Like the rest of this tie, there’s not much that will help us predict the winner of the final rubber. We’ll just have to watch, happily, to see what happens.

Winner: France