iIt was a different Roger Federer than the one people saw on the first day against Gael Monfils. He looked fitter and more enthusiastic as he combined with Stanislas Wawrinka in the doubles tie on Saturday. The two guys don’t play much doubles together but they justified the confidence reposed in them by their captain. Despite Federer’s poor show against Monfils, Severin Luthi persisted with pairing the world no.2 with Wawrinka in the doubles, instead of the nominated Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer. Luthi’s move paid rich dividends as Federer/Wawrinka defeated Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet in straight sets and brought Switzerland within one match of lifting their first ever Davis Cup trophy. It was a pleasant turnaround for the Swiss as Federer and Wawrinka produced a superb combined display in a tense encounter that stretched to 2 hours and 12 minutes with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory for the Swiss combo. It was also the first victory on clay for the 2008 Olympic gold medalists and they broke the streak of four consecutive losses as doubles partners in Davis Cup matches.
Contrary to what the score-line indicates, the first set was tight. There were long and entertaining rallies from the beginning that thrilled the packed Stade Pierre Mauroy at Lille. One among the 27,360 people, who crammed every nook and cranny, was the President of France Francois Hollande. After pairs on both sides held their services until the fifth game, the Swiss got the first break opportunity on Benneteau’s serve in the sixth game. The French pair committed avoidable unforced errors and presented two break points to the Swiss. Benneteau saved the first but on the second break point, Wawrinka’s solid return flew past Richard Gasquet as Federer/Wawrinka took a 4-2 lead. After that the two Swiss players continued to mount pressure and Federer served out the first set in 28 minutes.
In the second set, the French pair raised their game and Gasquet and Benneteau elicited a break point in the second game of the second set as Federer was down 30-40 on his serve. But the legendary Swiss extracted himself out of the hole with a wonderful smash to a loud applause from a handful of Switzerland supporters. The French pair held two more break points, a couple of games later with Wawrinka serving at 15-40 but the Swiss saved them both. For the third time in the second set, Benneteau/Gasquet found two more break opportunities on Wawrinka’s service. The first was cleared by Federer with a high backhand smash to take the score to deuce. The second opportunity in the same service game presented itself, when Wawrinka’s forehand fell wide. However, serving on the break, Wawrinka came up with a 145 mph serve that saved the second break point. These five chances for service break were the last for Benneteau and Gasquet in the second set. Afterwards, the Swiss put on pressure on the French and got two break chances for themselves on Benneteau’s serve at 5-4. Though the French pair saved these chances, they couldn’t get lucky two games later when the Swiss broke Gasquet’s serve to take a 6-5 lead with Wawrinka’s serve to follow. The world no.4 produced a fine service game to take the second set 7-5.
In the third set, Federer/Wawrinka found an early break opportunity on Gasquest’s service in the third game. Though the French pair saved the break at this point, there were not so lucky when Benneteau offered the Swiss three break points at 0-40, 2-2. The French won the next two points to take the score to 30-40 but at this point Wawrinka produced a weighted forehand that sliced between the two French players. In the ninth game, as he served to stay in the match at 3-5, Benneteau double-faulted twice and the Swiss got their first match point but the French saved it somehow. In the next service game, however, Federer held three match points at 40-0 and won on the first opportunity, when Wawrinka produced a scorching cross court backhand that brought a vital 2-1 lead for Switzerland.
Switzerland now need just one victory in two reverse singles scheduled for Sunday. While Federer has been drawn to play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first reverse singles, there are rumors of an arm injury to Tsonga. In such a case, Federer could probably be facing Richard Gasquet or anyone else, whom the French captain Arnaud Clement may name. For Wawrinka too, it could be a tough battle against the motivated Monfils. But with Federer’s form in the doubles, Switzerland can sleep on Saturday with lots of hopes.