Roger Federer capped off a historic season for Swiss tennis by defeating Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to clinch Switzerland's first ever Davis Cup title. Switzerland became the 14th nation to win the Davis Cup title after a team effort saw Stan Wawrinka beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Day 1, Wawrinka and Federer team up for a doubles win on day two, and then Federer winning Sunday to win the third and decisive point.
French captain Arnaud Clement substituted Gasquet in for French No. 1 Tsonga, who sat out of doubles on Saturday. On Sunday, French federation President Gachassin said Tsonga was benched due to an arm injury. Gasquet, who put in a poor performance in the doubles, came into the Sunday's must-win match with a 2-12 record against Federer. Though both his wins came on clay, the last one came in 2011. Though a top ten player last year, Gasquet had slipped to No. 26 and had not won back-to-back matches since the U.S. Open.
Lacking in confidence and form, the Frenchman was no match for a seemingly fit Federer, playing his third straight day after a back injury forced him to pull out of the ATP World Tour Finals a week ago. After taking his worst Davis Cup loss on Friday, losing 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 to Gael Monfils, Federer has looked better and better with each day. He said he felt 100 percent fit after winning the doubles with Wawrinka on Saturday and on Sunday he put forth a vintage Federer performance. He broke Gasquet five times and saw 16 break points in the match while never facing a single break point on his own serve. He was dominant with the ball in his hand, losing just 14 points on his serve.
Three thoughts after Switzerland's big win:
Roger was the hero, but Stan was the man
Federer may have clinched the tie for Switzerland but there's a strong argument to be made that Wawrinka won it. His inspiring play on Day 1 to beat Tsonga 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 was a demoralizing loss for France. They were banking on being better rested and more comfortable with the conditions in Lille after practicing on the court longer than the Swiss, who were too busy playing on London's indoor hard courts. Then their No. 1 got his hat handed to him and took to criticizing the French fans for their lack of support. Any mojo Monfils was able to pull back with his thumping of Federer quickly evaporated on Saturday. Again, Wawrinka was the man of the match. His confident and powerful display during doubles carried the Swiss to a quick and efficient win, leaving Federer good to go physically on Sunday.
After saluting the crowd with tears in his eyes, Federer told the on-court interviewer that this win wasn't for him. "I've won enough in my career," he said. "I didn't need to check any empty boxes. This is for the boys." He wasn't referring to his sons Leo and Lenny, but to the Swiss Davis Cup stalwarts, like captain Severin Luthi, Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli, and Michael Lammer. While Federer's participation in Davis Cup over the years has been on his own terms, typically stepping in when Switzerland was under threat of relegation, the rest of the team have showed up for every tie. That Switzerland was even in position to win Davis Cup this year was due to Federer's teammates. He skipped the entire competition in 2013 and it was Wawrinka, Chiudinell, and Lammer that defeated Ecuador in the World Group playoff last September to keep Switzerland alive.
Many questions will be asked of Clement and Tsonga
Let's get this out of the way: With the way Wawrinka and Federer played over the weekend it's hard to think there were any moves Clement could have made to change this result. Nevertheless, this was a classic French implosion. Here are the questions I can't seem to shake:
- What happened to Tsonga? If injury was the sole reason he refused to take the court again after Friday then fair enough. But amid reports that Clement wanted him to play doubles with Gasquet on Saturday only to have him back out at the 11th hour on Saturday morning, it's hard to ignore the theory that Tsonga just didn't want to deal with the pressure. A Davis Cup captain needs to have his pulse on the psyche of his players and know how to manage them.
- Was this the best team France could field? Davis Cup is as much about intestinal fortitude as it is about talent. So when Clement went to name his four players for the tie, Gasquet couldn't have been a clear choice. Gasquet has prodigious talent but his reputation for being clutch and delivering in big matches is...not the best. Having to rely on him to play his best in front of a noisy crowd of 27,000 people was not ideal. Gasquet has played well in Davis Cup this year -- he beat Tomas Berdych in the semifinals -- but on the whole he was not in form. Another option would have been to go with Gilles Simon, who made the Shanghai Masters final last month but has a history of underperforming in Davis Cup. And yet another option would have been to nominate Edouard Roger-Vasselin, who partnered with Julien Benneteau to win the doubles title at the French Open and qualify for the ATP Finals. That would have meant Benneteau would serve as France's back-up singles player if Tsonga or Monfils couldn't play, but that still might have been a better option than Gasquet.
- Was clay the wrong choice? Hindsight is 20/20, but there were enough stats going into this tie that argued against the French playing on clay. France obviously has a great clay tradition, but that's not where French tennis is nowadays. France's top two players,Tsonga and Monfils, thrive on fast courts. All of Tsonga's titles have come on either indoor or outdoor hard courts, while all but one of Monfils' have come on indoor hard courts. Putting the Swiss on clay was also a miscalculation. Sure, Wawrinka is an Australian Open champion, but he's won the majority of his titles on clay, including the Monte Carlo Masters this year. And yes, Federer's worst surface is clay but that's like saying Pablo Honey is Radiohead's worst album: it's still better than 99% of what's out there. All that is to say, it would have been interesting to see how this tie played out on an indoor hard court.
What a year for Swiss tennis
Federer rebounds from a disastrous 2013 season to climb all the way back to No. 2 in the world, win five titles (including two Masters 1000s), make the Wimbledon final, and come within shouting distance of the No. 1 ranking. Oh, and he had his second pair of twins in May and turned 33 years old in August. Wawrinka became the first man to beat both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to win a Slam, capturing his first major at the Australian Open. Then he won his first ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo, beating Federer in the first all-Swiss final since 2000, and finishes the year at No. 4. Together they pair up to bring home the Davis Cup trophy. And let's not forget about 17-year-old Belinda Bencic on the women's side. She won the WTA's Newcomer of the Year award after making her first Slam quarterfinal at the U.S. Open and finishing the year at No. 32. All hail the land of Helvetica.
Here are some of the best Twitter reactions to Switzerland's win: