Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka teamed up to put Switzerland one win away from its first Davis Cup title, beating France's Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 on Saturday. The win means Switzerland goes into Sunday's reverse singles with a 2-1 lead. Barring any line-up changes, Federer will have a chance to clinch the tie first when he plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with Wawrinka ready to play Gael Monfils in the decisive fifth rubber if needed.
Swiss captain Severin Luthi substituted Federer and Wawrinka into doubles instead of Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer and the gutsy move paid off. The pair snapped their four-match losing streak in Davis Cup and needed just 2 hours and 12 minutes to roll past Benneteau/Gasquet for their first win on clay. The Swiss team hired Dave McPherson, coach to Bob and Mike Bryan, as a consultant for the final and the Swiss gameplan was clear from the start of the match: be aggressive. Both Wawrinka and Federer took huge rips at the ball from the baseline and actively patrolled the net, poaching and crossing at will.
According to French media, Benneteau was a last minute substitution for Tsonga. It was Tsonga and Gasquet that were spotted warming up in the morning but according to numerous reports, it was Tsonga who ruled himself out of the doubles at the last minute. Whether he made the decision due to his own fitness, the desire to rest for Sunday's singles, or because he simply wasn't ready to deal with the pressure, is unclear.
The decision thrust Benneteau and Gasquet into the spotlight. The pair had not played together since March 2013. They also lost to Federer/Wawrinka at Indian Wells in 2011. Sure enough, the Frenchmen were outplayed and outmatched in every facet of the game and couldn't capitalize when they had their chance, going 0 for 5 on break points in the second set. Their returning was particularly woeful on pressure points. Once the Swiss were able to escape the pressure of that second set and steal it with a late break and hold, they earned the early break in the third and cruised to victory.
Wawrinka and Federer won the doubles gold at the 2008 Olympics thanks in large part to Wawrinka's strong play. Once again, Wawrinka was by far the best player on court. He took control of the match with big returns from the baseline and drilled ball after ball heavy and hard down the middle of the court. Federer, looking much quicker and nimble than he did in his straight set loss to Monfils on Friday, was sharp enough to make you believe he can beat Tsonga on Sunday, even with his own injury concerns.
That Federer was nominated for the doubles at all is a huge sign of confidence from him and Luthi that the back injury that ruled him out of last week's title match at the ATP World Tour Finals has improved. He told reporters after the match that he felt 100 percent. Despite playing two matches in two days, Federer hasn't had to spend too much time on court. His recovery for Sunday's match should be straightforward.
Sunday's matches begin at 7am ET/4am PT.