Reuters Lille, France
Nov 24, 2018, 01.16 PM
Borna Coric and Marin Cilic put Croatia in complete control of the Davis Cup final on Friday, leaving hosts and defending champions France facing what looks like mission impossible.
France captain Yannick Noah's odd choice of Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the opening singles rubbers backfired spectacularly as Croatia built a 2-0 lead inside the huge Stade Pierre Mauroy - home to Lille's soccer club.
Coric gave Croatia a flying start with an emphatic 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 win over Chardy and the 33-year-old Tsonga, out for most of the season after knee surgery, was pummelled 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 by world number seven Cilic.
Croatia need to win one of the three remaining rubbers to claim a repeat of their 2005 Davis Cup triumph while French hopes of extending the contest to Sunday now rest with doubles pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Noah will end his third stint in charge of the French team after the final but his hopes of signing off with a fourth title for Les Blues are in tatters.
No side has overturned a 2-0 deficit in a Davis Cup final since Australia beat the United States in 1939.
There was an end-of-era feel during the build-up to the final -- the last before the 118-year-old team competition gets a major revamp next year.
Whatever the future holds it did not detract from the electric atmosphere under the closed roof of a stadium hosting its third Davis Cup final in five years.
Few fans are more passionate about the Davis Cup than France's and they cranked up the volume with their choreographed chanting as the players walked on court for the anthems, accompanied by fireworks and spotlights.
But it was the large block of Croatians perched high up in the freezing upper tiers who had more to sing about.
Coric broke serve after an 11-minute opening game in which Chardy led 40-0 and won 15 points in a row on his way to taking the first set on the indoor claycourt.
Noah's pep talks galvanised Chardy in the second set and his booming forehand finally gave him a toe-hold in the match.
But Coric was relentless and at 5-5 he forged three break points after some terrific scrambling and Chardy, who had saved break points at 3-3, succumbed with a weak backhand.
Coric left the court for a medical timeout leading 4-3 with a break of serve in the third set but he showed no ill-effects from a hamstring twinge on his return and finished the job.
Cilic rammed home Croatia's advantage with a performance of brute force.
No amount cajoling from Noah or support from the blue-clad fans could help former world number five Tsonga fend off the mighty attacks of Cilic.
Only briefly, when he had two points for a 5-3 led in the second set, did Tsonga threaten to make it a real contest.
But Cilic snuffed out that danger and turned up the power on his forehand to break at 5-5 before holding for a two-set lead.
Tsonga appeared to twist awkwardly midway through the third set when he was a breakdown. After disappearing for the treatment he returned more in hope than expectation and Cilic duly sealed victory, bashing away a smash on match point.
Croatia need to win one of the three remaining rubbers to claim a repeat of their 2005 Davis Cup triumph.