LILLE, France (Reuters) - France moved one step closer to a 10th Davis Cup title when Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore 6-1 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4 to give the hosts a 2-1 lead in the final against neighbours Belgium on Saturday.
The French pair, in their first competitive match together, were down a break in the third set when Bemelmans suffered a meltdown, allowing Les Bleus to turn the situation around.
David Goffin put the visitors ahead by beating Lucas Pouille in the opening singles before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga levelled for 1-1 when he defeated Steve Darcis in the second singles on Friday.
Tsonga and Goffin face off in the first reverse singles on Sunday while Pouille and Darcis are set to play a decisive fifth match, if needed.
France captain Yannick Noah had surprisingly dropped doubles specialists Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut, Herbert’s preferred partner, to include Gasquet in the team on Thursday and while risky, his choice did not backfire.
Gasquet and Herbert, however, owe a big part of their victory to Bemelmans’s inability to handle the pressure in front of a wild 28,500 crowd at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.
After a disastrous opening set, the Belgian pair put the French on the back foot and served for the gain of the third set, only for Bemelmans to crack.
Herbert and Gasquet had never played together but it did not seem to be a problem at first as they raced to a 5-0 lead while the Belgians struggled to find their stride on the indoor hardcourt.
They avoided a bagel, however, saving two set points before winning their first game.
The French bagged the set in the following game but Belgium gained momentum when they broke for 3-1 in the second.
France broke back but dropped serve again in the following game as De Loore fired a jaw-dropping passing shot from way outside the court’s limits.
Bemelmans then levelled for one-set all with an angled service winner.
The French saved two break points in the fifth game of the third set but dropped serve in the seventh against an ecstatic Belgian pair.
Bemelmans played a poor service game to allow the French to level for 5-5 and as the left-handed Belgian’s level nosedived, Les Bleus easily won the tiebreak.
Two consecutive double faults by Herbert earned Belgium break points in the sixth game of the fourth set but France saved them in style before they broke in the seventh when Bemelmans made a dog’s dinner of a routine overhead.
The French held serve and wrapped it up when De Loore fired a forehand long on match point.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Rex Gowar