After battling away for the best part of 2017, the Davis Cup finalists are now just one victory away from securing the famous tennis trophy for their country. France and Belgium have made it to the final, which will be played from Friday to Sunday at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille.
The French will enjoy home advantage, and consequently they’re a heavy favourite with the top online bookmakers. Of the 14 World Group fixtures played to date, nine were won by the home team, and that’s a telling statistic given that it’s the hosts who decide what type of surface the contest will be played out on.x
Hence why France have chosen the hard courts of Lille as the final venue – Belgium are much better on the clay. But this encounter may not be as one-sided as the bookmakers are predicting, particularly given that Belgium’s star man, David Goffin, is in fine form at the moment.
He reached the final of last week’s ATP Tour Finals, beating the likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal on the way before going down 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to Grigor Dimitrov in the seasonal curtain-call. So can France make their home advantage count and pick up their first Davis Cup win since 2001, or will Belgian create history?
It’s fair to say that the two teams have encountered contrasting amounts of difficulty on route to the final. For Belgium, it’s been a long old road, with a trio of 3-2 wins confirming just how hard they have had to fight to book their place in the French finale.
An outstanding away win in Germany set the scene, with Steve Darcis beating a pair of higher-ranked players in Alex Zverev and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the singles rubbers to lay the foundation for his side’s victory.
With Goffin back in the team, Belgium were fancied to ease past Italy in Charleroi in round two, but they didn’t have things all their own way. After racing into a 2-0 lead after the singles, the team of Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore were downed in the doubles.
Step forward that man Goffin, who overcame Paolo Lorenzi in straight sets to confirm his country’s spot in the semi-finals. With home advantage once again, the Belgians chose to host the last four clash on clay to counter the heavy-hitting Australian team, but after going down 1-2 across the first two days they needed something special.
Goffin’s singles win over Nick Kyrgios set the tone, and in the deciding rubber it was again Darcis who made a mockery of his lowly world ranking to complete a fine comeback and secure his country’s second Davis Cup final appearance in three years.
As for France, well, matters have been rather more straightforward. They raced into an unassailable 4-0 lead over Japan in the first round, before hammering a Great Britain side missing the injured Andy Murray on the clay of Rouen.
In the semi-final they went 0-1 down to Serbia, but a pair of victories for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the excellent doubles pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert booked France’s ticket to a fifth Davis Cup final since the turn of the Millennium.
If Belgium are to have any chance of upsetting the odds, they’ll once again need Steve Darcis to come to the party. We know that David Goffin will enjoy himself on the hard court given his recent form, but the world number 66 will need to hold up his end of the bargain.
Darcis actually has a fine 21-8 win/loss record in Davis Cup rubbers, and it’s almost as if representing his country brings out a side to his game rarely seen when competing as an individual on the ATP Tour. But it's the strength in depth of the French team that really appeals.
They can pick any two from Tsonga, Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet for the singles, and they may even consider the out-of-form Gilles Simon, whose 2017 has been well below-par, but who did defeat Goffin at the Shanghai Masters as recently as October.
In the doubles rubber, Les Bleus can call upon Mahut and Herbert, one of the finest pairings on the planet that have US Open and Wimbledon titles to their name. The Belgian duo of Bemelmans and de Loore is rather less well decorated.
So really, punters have little choice. Take the 2/9 odds on a French victory offered over at Betway! Although backing Belgium might seems like a potential value pick, experts are sure backing the Frenchman this weekend if the bet to make!