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DAVIS CUP TENNIS FINALS

ROGER FEDERER

Win puts Swiss on verge of Davis Cup glory

Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka gave Switzerland a 2-1 lead over France in the Davis Cup tennis final with a commanding doubles win over Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet in Lille on Saturday.

Win puts Swiss on verge of Davis Cup glory
Photo: Francois Lo Presti/AFP

The world number two and four were in charge from the start and bossed the rubber from the net and the baseline to win 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The win means that the Swiss are just one victory away from capturing the first Davis Cup title in their history.

That could come Sunday when the reverse singles are held, with Wawrinka and Federer highly likely to play again against Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

"Clearly it's a big relief. The medical staff, it's a big thanks to them. Thanks for getting me back onto the court. Stan has been unbelievably supportive," said Federer, who had been struggling with a back injury in the days prior to Lille.

"I am really happy with the way we were playing today," said Wawrinka.

"We were really aggressive, we knew what we had to do. I think we did a good job," .

Watched by another huge crowd of around 27,000 in the roofed over Lille football stadium, including French President Francois Hollande, the Swiss pair knuckled down quickly to their task, pocketing the first break of the match in the sixth game on the Benneteau serve.

That was enough to edge them a set up, but, after a quick visit to the locker room to regroup, the French pair came back out re-energized.

They briefly looked the likelier to move back into contention, but failed to convert any of five break points that came their way in the second, fourth and eighth games.

They were made to pay a heavy price as, with a tie-break looming, Gasquet's serve collapsed under the weight of some magnificent returns from both of the Swiss.

A Federer backhand winner secured the break and Wawrinka had no trouble serving out for a two sets to love lead.

The French pair had a mountain to climb and they had to hold on grimly to Gasquet's serve early in the third set to stay in the match.

Two games later it was Benneteau's turn to feel the Swiss pressure and, after the French pair saved two break points, they succumbed on the third, Wawrinka splitting them with a forehand drive.

The Swiss were coasting towards a famous victory and, even though the home pair saved a match point on Benneteau's serve at 3-5 down, Federer made no mistake in serving to love for the match and what could turn out to be the pivotal point of the final.

In Friday's opening singles, Wawrinka defeated Tsonga in four sets and Monfils stunned Federer in three.

After his defeat, Federer insisted that his injured back was on the mend and that he would be fit for action at the weekend.

He and Wawrinka won Olympic doubles gold in Beijing for Switzerland in 2008, but they had lost the last four Davis Cup doubles they had played together.

By putting an end to that dire run of defeats they have put their country on the brink of one of its greatest ever sporting achievements.

It would also be a consecration for Federer, who has won an all-time best of 17 Grand Slam titles, but, unlike his great rival Rafael Nadal, he has yet to win the Davis Cup.

The signals are all at green for the Swiss as six out of seven teams which have won the doubles when Saturday started at 1-1 have gone on to capture the Davis Cup.

French skipper Arnaud Clement though knows that France still have a shot at a first Davis Cup win since 2001 with Monfils in superb form and Tsonga having defeated Federer the last time they played in Canada in August.

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TENNIS

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash
Serena Williams of the US holds a ball as she prepares to serve to Germany's Julia Goerges on day seven of the French Open. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
   
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
   
“I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
   
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal. It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears…
   
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'.”
   
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
   
Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.
   
But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.
   
Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
   
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.
   
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina 
Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
   
“Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
 
'Numbers don't lie'
 
The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don't lie”.
   
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
 
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against,” said the 31-year-old. “You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
   
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have… Numbers don't lie.”
   
But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
   
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes,” she wrote.
   
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends.”
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