Luck on France’s side, again, ahead of Davis Cup semifinals

PARIS — Sadly for France, Yannick Noah is leaving his job as Davis Cup captain at the end of the year.

Since returning to the helm of the squad for the 2016 campaign, the former French Open champion has indeed been a lucky charm.

Despite a drop in their individual performances recently, Noah’s players have been able to reach the Davis Cup semifinals every year during his most recent stint. They lost to Croatia in 2016, won the title against Belgium last year and will be facing Spain this weekend at home for a place in the final against either Croatia or the United States.

Over the past two years, France has been lucky enough to face many teams playing without their best player. In 2016, Noah, who also guided France to Davis Cup titles in 1991 and 1996, won his first series back in charge against Canada in the absence of Milos Raonic, who was out injured. France then played a Czech Republic squad bereft of its best player, Tomas Berdych.

Last year, France defeated Japan in the first round as Kei Nishikori skipped the matchup, then beat Britain for a semifinal spot after Andy Murray was forced to withdraw with an elbow injury. Lucas Pouille and his teammates then made it to the final by eliminating Serbia as Novak Djokovic played no part in the contest because of a long-term injury.

And this week again, luck is on France’s side. Noah’s players were expecting to take on Rafael Nadal this weekend, but the top-ranked Spaniard’s chronic knee problems resurfaced at the U.S. Open, where he retired from his semifinal match against Juan Martin del Potro last week before he was ruled out of the Davis Cup.

“We have been thinking about Nadal for the past four or five months,” Noah said Tuesday. “Playing one of the best players in the world at home in the Davis Cup is something I would have liked to watch from my chair.”

Forced to make do without the 17-time Grand Slam champion, Spain captain Sergi Bruguera has called up Albert Ramos as a replacement for Nadal, who will line up alongside Pablo Carreno Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers.

“Coming here without Nadal obviously changes a lot of things for us,” Bruguera said. “Actually, it changes everything. Now the French are even more favourites.”

The news of Nadal’s withdrawal might have been heartwarming for the French, who registered disappointing results in New York. Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet lost in the third round at Flushing Meadows while Benoit Paire was beaten in straight sets by Roger Federer in the second round.

In the absence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, who are out injured, Paire has received his first Davis Cup call-up in a squad that also includes Pouille, Gasquet, Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut as the hosts aim to reach back-to-back finals for the first time since 2002.

Benneteau, who will succeed Noah as Fed Cup captain at the end of the season, might be involved in his last doubles match, having announced his retirement at the U.S. Open. Noah will pass the Davis Cup baton to former top-ranked player Amelie Mauresmo, who will become the first woman to captain France’s Davis Cup team when she replaces the 1983 French Open champion.

Matches will be played on an indoor hard court at the 27,500-capacity Pierre Mauroy Stadium in the city of Lille, with the roof closed. France won its 10th Davis Cup title last year in the same venue, beating Belgium 3-2.

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More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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