The swarming circle of French players leaped off the terre battue like a trampoline. It's been 31 years since Yannick Noah won Roland Garros—the former Davis Cup captain is the last Frenchman to rule Roland Garros—but Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga turned the place into a bounce house today, bringing nearly 15,000 roaring fans along for the ride.
The French pair defeated Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1 on the red clay of Roland Garros, sending the host into its first Davis Cup final in four years. France snapped the two-time defending champion Czech Republic's streak of 11 consecutive victories and handed Berdych and Stepanek just their second Davis Cup doubles defeat in 17 matches together.
"[I feel] very proud and very happy," Gasquet told DavisCup.com afterward. "It's great to win against the Czech Republic. We fight a lot. We didn't play so well, but I think it's very nice. The audience is wonderful, everyone is happy for us. It's a big honor for us to play on this court and win 3-0 and go to the final."
While France is celebrating, Switzerland still has some work to do to reach its first final since 1992. The Italian duo of Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli staved off elimination—and a Swiss celebration—scoring a 7-5, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli today in Geneva to cut the host's lead to 2-1.
The good news for Italy is its Davis Cup hopes remain alive. The bad news is 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer should be fully rested and ready to clinch against scheduled opponent Fognini, who lost to Wawrinka in Friday's singles then toiled for nearly four hours on court in today's doubles victory. The theatrical Italian concedes he is drained, but he may well be captain Corrado Barazzutti's best option given the fact Federer is 10-0 lifetime against 48th-ranked Italian Andreas Seppi, who lacks the weapons to trouble the Swiss from the baseline.
"This point was very important for us, even if Roger wasn’t playing,” Fognini told DavisCup.com. “I am much happier with my performance today, I served much better than yesterday, I returned much better. It’s still going to be very difficult for us but it’s a little less difficult than before. It depends if I play tomorrow, we have to decide. I’m a bit tired, but Simone and I always played long matches, we played four hours in Argentina, we played a long match in Naples, so we’re going to try until the end.”
Should Federer falter, which is unlikely as he's won 22 of his last 23 Davis Cup singles matches, Wawrinka would play Bolelli in a decisive fifth match. The Australian Open champion has won two of their three meetings, but Bolelli swept Wawrinka in straight sets in their last match at the 2011 Wimbledon. If Italy pulls off what would be an astounding comeback, it would host France in the final. Wawrinka didn't sound too worried about that prospect after a grueling doubles defeat.
"The good thing is we're still up 2-1 and that's most important," Wawrinka said. "In Davis Cup you have to be ready for the weekend. I'm going to warm-up and watch Roger at the beginning for sure. If it looks like he's going to win maybe I'm going to watch all of his match. But I know how to deal with that. I know I have to get ready in case I have to play the fifth match."
If Switzerland clinches its semifinal against Italy on Sunday as expected, it would set up a dynamic Davis Cup final in France filled with star power and contrasting story lines. Federer and Wawrinka, who won the Olympic doubles gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, are playing for Switzerland's first Davis Cup championship. France would be playing for its first Davis Cup championship on home soil since left-handers Guy Forget and Henri Leconte stunned an American squad led by Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, 3-1, to capture the 1991 Cup in Lyon.
The last time France faced Switzerland in Davis Cup was a decade ago when current captain Clement, Nicolas Escude and Julien Benneteau comprised the French squad that edged the host, 3-2. Federer, Yves Allegro, Ivo Heuberger and Michel Kratochvil represented Switzerland in that tie.
France's superior depth, home-court advantage and the fact the November 21-23rd final comes a week after the ATP World Tour Finals in London—Federer has already qualified for London, Wawrinka is on pace to qualify, while French players can use the week to train for Davis Cup—will make Les Bleus a very formidable opponent to the red and white side.
Hosting the final doesn't ensure victory, of course, but it has been an immense advantage in recent years. Eight of the last 11 Davis Cup finals have been won by the home team. The Czech Republic beat Serbia, 3-2, in Belgrade in last November's final; Spain, which was without Rafael Nadal, upset host Argentina in the 2008 final, and Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic led Croatia to a 3-2 victory over host Slovakia in the 2005 final in Bratislava.
The last time France hosted a Davis Cup final it was on the verge of hoisting the Cup, taking a 2-1 lead over Russia on the red clay in Paris. Mikhail Youzhny made history that day as the first man to rally from a two-set deficit in a fifth and decisive match in a Davis Cup final, beating France's Paul-Henri Mathieu in five sets to clinch Russia's first Cup in the 2002 final. The then 32nd-ranked Youzhny had never won a live Davis Cup match before. His performance remains a reminder of both the enormous pressure —and empowering possibilities —Davis Cup finals invoke.
"It's great; a few years ago we qualified for the final, but unfortunately, I was injured," said Tsonga, who has played a pair of memorable five-setters against Wawrinka at Roland Garros, losing a two-set lead in 2011 before prevailing in 2012. "I would love the possibility to play another final— and maybe win it."