Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pulled France level at 1-1 in the Davis Cup final with an assured three-set win over Belgium’s Steve Darcis in Lille on Friday.
David Goffin had mercilessly swept aside close friend Lucas Pouille to give outsiders Belgium the first point at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
But world number 15 Tsonga steadied home nerves in the second rubber of the opening day with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 success over 76th-ranked Darcis to boost France’s hopes of claiming the trophy for the first time since 2001.
France’s top player, a beaten finalist against Switzerland at this same venue in 2014, took 1 hour 46 minutes to despatch the Belgian number two in the pair’s first ever encounter.
Darcis put up stubborn resistance until Tsonga finally managed to break the Belgian’s serve in the eighth game.
Tsonga’s power denied Darcis any chance of a comeback in the first set and it was plain sailing for the 32-year-old from then on.
That left the 2017 final finely poised ahead of Saturday’s doubles with France captain Yannick Noah still hesitating whether to stick with his proposed pairing of Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Noah suggested the 1-1 scoreline was “logical”.
“The two matches were similar, there was some tension on both sides. Between David and Lucas there was a moment when it was balanced but from when David pulled clear there wasn’t much to do. “It was similar with Jo. We knew Darcis was a Davis Cup player. He loves to dig in then change a gear to win. But Jo didn’t give him the opportunity to do that.
“He (Tsonga) was very solid, he played a very good match. I was delighted. So 1-1 is logical.” Goffin, the world number seven, won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in front of a crowd of close to 26,000 fans, many making the short trip from across the border with Belgium.
Goffin, who last week lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the title decider at the ATP Finals in London, needed just under two hours to give the Belgians the upper hand as they look to win the Davis Cup for the first time.—APP