LILLE, France (AP) — Doubles pair Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut gave France an unassailable 3-0 lead over Spain in their Davis Cup semifinal on Saturday as the defending champions reached back-to-back finals for the first time since 2002.
The French veterans, both aged 36, defeated Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7) on the indoor hard court set up inside the Pierre Mauroy soccer stadium.
France, which won both singles matches Friday, will either face Croatia or the United States in the final.
Spain was without top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who was ruled out because of the right-knee injury that forced him to retire from his U.S. Open semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro last week.
Benneteau and Mahut were expected to play in doubles in last year's final against Belgium, but Yannick Noah decided at the last minute to field Richard Gasquet and Pierre Hugues Herbert. Their captain's decision left them frustrated and Benneteau later said being left out was the hardest moment of his career.
This weekend the pair got another chance after Herbert was ruled out through injury and they did not disappoint Noah, who gave a selection to Benneteau after he announced his retirement during the U.S. Open.
"I'm so happy, what a wonderful gift they've made to me, it's unbelievable," said Noah, who will be replaced by Amelie Mauresmo as France's captain after the final. "They played really well, it's the best match I've seen since I took over."
Benneteau and Mahut got off to a flying start, losing only four points in the 18-minute opening set. The Spanish pair of Granollers and Lopez looked out of sorts in the early stages but finally managed to hold a service game at the start of the second, winning as many points in the opening game as they had in the entire first set.
The French pair dominated in every sector and broke again in the third game after Lopez failed to return the ball and was hit in the face instead.
In the third set, Mahut was broken at love in the second game as the Spanish pair won eight consecutive points to lead 2-0.
The French broke back in the seventh game following a series of aggressive returns from Benneteau. Mahut gained a break point with a forehand pass and Benneteau converted it with a forehand return which left the Spanish pair stranded.
Spain saved two match points in the tiebreaker but Benneteau made no mistake on the third one with a superb backhand winner.
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