Davis Cup final preview

The famous trophy is a notable absentee on his long list of achievements but the Swiss great is set to defy crippling back pain for Friday’s singles tie after he withdrew from Sunday’s ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he wasn’t ‘match fit’ to take on Novak Djokovic in the final.

Federer will team up with Stan Wawrinka, the current world No 4 and Australian Open champion, despite their friendship being sorely tested at the O2 in London where Wawrinka complained about remarks coming from Federer’s box, apparently from wife Mirka, during their remarkable semi-final tussle.

The pair had a long and tense set-to in the locker room after the match, won by Federer in three sets after saving four match points but the duel left both players bruised and battered.

Along with an Olympic gold medal in singles, a Davis Cup title is the only major hole in the 33-year-old Federer’s resume and asked if he was 100 per cent fit ahead of the first rubber, Federer said: “Only the match gives you the answer. I’m just pleased that I can play tomorrow (Friday), give it a go. Things have been going well.”

“I am not taking a huge risk by playing. I have confidence in my body, I am optimistic. Things have been going well.

“It’s a difficult match regardless. Because of the crowd, because of the opponent. Gael Monfils is a very good player.

“But things have been going well out there in practice. I was really happy with the way I felt.”

The Swiss have never won the Davis Cup in its long history, although they came close in 1992 when??they finished runners-up to the United States.

Meanwhile, France have won the team trophy nine times, the last coming away to Australia in 2001.

Le Bleus have admirable strength-in-depth with a side that includes Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau and Gael Monfils although the country’s wait for a men’s grand slam singles champion will extend to 32 years after more disappointment this season.

The problem for the Swiss is that after Federer and Wawrinka, the fall-off in the team is steep with Marco Chiudinelli 212th and Michael Lammer 508th in the rankings.

Flawless preparations

The French team’s preparation for the final has been flawless, helped by the fact that none of the team qualified for the London ATP finals.

They spent 10 days cloistered down in Bordeaux, practicing on clay, away from the spotlight.

French captain Arnaud Clement said that his team had not even considering contesting the Davis Cup final without the presence of Federer.

“We have been preparing for the last 10 days to play against a Swiss team with Federer and Wawrinka in it,” he said.

He need not have worried because Federer will play his 45th singles tie for his country against Monfils in the second of the opening two singles rubbers after French No 1 Tsonga plays Wawrinka in the opening match.

Switzerland captain Severin Luthi named Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer to play in Saturday’s doubles against Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet but he has until one hour before the start of the match to change his line-up.

World No 2 Federer will face Tsonga in the reverse singles on Sunday with Wawrinka playing Monfils in the potentially deciding fifth match.

Although the clay surface is more favourable??to the hosts,??Tsonga believes the final result will come down to which team wants it more.

“It’s the determination that will make the difference this weekend, not the court,” said the hard-hitting former Australian Open finalist.

“And this final means a lot to me. It is the most important event of my career.”

Friday’s singles

Friday’s singles rubbers make interesting reading in terms of head-to-head meetings with Tsonga leading Wawrinka 3-2 and Federer 8-2 up against Monfils.

Tsonga has played Wawrinka four out of five times on clay and they share the spoils with two wins apiece. Their last meeting came at the Madrid Masters last year which the Swiss No 2 won in three tight sets, but with vociferous home support, the world No 12 will hope to gain some inspiration and hand the hosts an early advantage.

Federer and Monfils played a five-set masterpiece at the US Open just a couple of months ago. The 33-year-old fended off two match points and fought back from two sets down to defeat the flamboyant Frenchman in a late-night thriller in New York.

The two also played in Cincinnati just weeks earlier and Monfils stretched Federer to a deciding third set in that.

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the fitness of Federer, the unpredictable Parisian will have to use all of his showmanship skills if he is to cause an upset in front of 27,000 fanatical fans.

“He had a four-day rest period,” said Monfils, who has never beaten Federer on clay in four matches. “Just before that he was playing his best tennis ever. If he’s there, it’s because he feels good and he wants to win this competition. If Roger decided to play, it’s because he feels he’s able to win the match, to beat me.”

The final will be the 13th meeting between the two countries in the Davis Cup with France leading 10-2 in previous clashes.

The schedule for the Davis Cup final in Lille:

Friday (from 1300 GMT)

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Stan Wawrinka (SUI)
Gaal Monfils (FRA) v Roger Federer (SUI)

Saturday (from 1400 GMT)

Richard Gasquet/Julien Benneteau (FRA) v Marco Chiudinelli/Michael Lammer (SUI)

Sunday (from 1200 GMT)

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v Roger Federer (SUI)
Gael Monfils (FRA) – Stan Wawrinka (SUI)

Recent winners of the Davis Cup:

2013: Czech Republic
2012: Czech Republic
2011: Spain
2010: Serbia
2009: Spain
2008: Spain
2007: United States
2006: Russia
2005: Croatia
2004: Spain
2003: Australia
2002: Russia
2001: France
2000: Spain
1999: Australia
1998: Sweden
1997: Sweden
1996: France
1995: United States
1994: Sweden
1993: Germany
1992: United States
1991: France
1990: United States??

Most victories:

32: United States
28: Australia
9: France, Great Britain
7: Sweden
5: Spain