Croatia moved to the brink of a second Davis Cup title on Friday as straight-set victories for Marin Cilic and Borna Coric gave them a 2-0 lead over reigning champions France in the final.
The visitors were dominant throughout the day in front of a capacity crowd at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille as Yannick Noah’s France failed make the most of home advantage and the clay court.
Coric got Croatia off to the best possible start with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 thrashing of Jeremy Chardy, who was a surprise selection by Noah ahead of Benoit Paire and Lucas Pouille, the highest-ranked member of the French squad.
World number seven Cilic then made short work of an injury-hit Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who needed to take a medical timeout during the third set before succumbing 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
“I didn’t lose my serve in the match and I played outstanding tennis throughout,” said Cilic.
“I am able to play all three days. I often play all three days in Davis Cup. We will see with the captain (Zeljko Krajan).”
Former Australian Open finalist Tsonga, now ranked 259 after a season plagued by injury problems, failed to put Cilic under any real pressure, and missed all five of the break points that did come his way.
“He (Tsonga) has a problem with a groin muscle,” Noah told BeIN Sports. “In the dressing room we wondered if he would retire from the match, but we thought that there where too many people here and that we still had to play.”
Cilic is bidding for redemption this weekend after blowing a two-set lead against Juan Martin del Potro in the 2016 final when victory would have sealed Croatia the title, and their doubles pairing of Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig could finish the job on Saturday.
They will be slight underdogs against Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who reached the final of the ATP Finals in London last week.
Victory for Croatia would give them their final Davis Cup crown since 2005, in the final staging of the historic team competition before a controversial change of format comes into place next year.
“I’m especially proud of my players’ mentality,” said skipper Krajan. “The way they handled the matches and the pressure of the crowd, they were very focused, very motivated.”
Coric sees off Chardy
Earlier on Friday, world number 12 Coric galloped through the opening set as Chardy’s service temporarily collapsed and went on to stroll to easy victory.
Noah stirred controversy when he picked Chardy for the opening singles ahead of the higher-ranked Lucas Pouille.
The plan backfired as Chardy, ranked 40 in the world, failed to hold his opening service game, which lasted for 12 minutes and included two double faults before Coric broke.
Chardy lost 14 points in succession to find himself 0-4 down and the opening set all but lost.
The 31-year-old Frenchman fought back gamely in the second set, though, to lead 5-4. However with the home crowd noisily cheering Chardy, Coric held his nerve and his serve to take the set 7-5.
The 22-year-old Coric needed a brief medical time-out when he led 4-3 in the third set but returned to complete a convincing win and put Croatia in front.