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Action Replay: 1991 Davis Cup final, pt.2

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:56

The 1991 Davis Cup final was played in the intimate arena of the Palais des Sports Gerland in Lyon, upon a rust-red indoor court, mimicking the red clay of the French Open. It was not a decision made with captain Yannick Noahs team selection in mind, but was most likely designed to provide a touch of the familiar for the French squad and supporters in the hope that a pro-Gallic atmosphere would somehow outweigh being outranked by the Americans.

After day one it was so far, so good Guy Forget might have come up short against Andre Agassi, but Herni Leconte had produced an electric performance to bury the ghosts of 1988 and Paris to overcome the precocious Pete Sampras and balance the tie at a rubber apiece.

Leconte was emerging as the lion of Lyon, blowing kisses to the stands…

The doubles featured on day two. Noah had already played his hand Forget and Leconte were to carry the hopes of a nation through the final. Each had doubles pedigree – back in 1984, Noah had won the French Open doubles title with Leconte, who with Forget had an undefeated Davis Cup doubles partnership.

Noah said his players were determined to bring their nation its first Davis Cup title since 1932. Simply being the runner-up – even with Lecontes recovery from back surgery this summer and his betrayal of his world No.161 ranking counting against them – was unacceptable.

“In France, you’re happy to be participating, happy to be in the finals. It’s a feeling that is something I’ve grown up with – but I really want to fight that,” Noah said, before adding: “There’s too many No.2’s in France.”

But each had already endured the highly emotional atmosphere of the singles matches, and neither could be described as brimming with youthful exuberance.

And in contrast to Fridays young guns, the French faced another veteran Davis Cup pair – world No.2-ranked doubles specialists, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso. There would be no Sampras-esque rabbit freezing before the headlamps Flach and Seguso were well-travelled in Cup play with a 10-1 record coming into the match.

It was their first appearance in a final after five years of what Flach described as the “dirty work” of the preliminary rounds, and a year of exile after a shock semi-final loss to Germany in 1989. The pair believed that they had paid their dues, but that didn’t seem to matter to the French.

Leconte picked up against Flach and Seguso where he had left off against Sampras. Fists raised, and with the 8,300-strong crowd roaring, he was emerging as the lion of Lyon, blowing kisses to the stands as the atmosphere approached fever pitch.

Of course, it was all part of the plan. Lecontes theatrics were as irritable to the Americans as they were delightful to the French. Forget, meanwhile, played the straight man as the pair dominated the net at every opportunity. Flach and Seguso could not cope with the double-edged onslaught.

Forget and Leconte worked together like scissor blades from the net, shredding Flach and Seguso’s game, confidence and strategy from the off to claim the first set in just 22 minutes, having lost just eight points.

The Americans didn’t earn a break point until the fourth game of the third set – just after having been broken in the third game when both, racquets flailing, lunged at and missed a forehand volley from Leconte.

The Americans leveled the set at 2-2 when Seguso, who struggled with his timing all afternoon, buried a backhand service return at Forget’s feet. They claimed the set when Forget dumped a backhand volley into the net with Leconte serving.

But any thought of a comeback ended there. The inspired Leconte and Forget reappeared in the final set and deservedly won, claiming the rubber 6-1 6-4 4-6 6-2. The pair claimed 23 points from their 25 net approaches, and produced almost twice as many winners as the Americans – 50 to 27.

Leconte remained confident that in this form, he was unbeatable. “I felt like I never left the court at all,” he said afterwards. “The only thing I think about is winning.”

“We started off probably the worst way we could, and Leconte was still riding the emotion of yesterday’s match,” agreed Flach. “He put a lot of pressure on us.”

“What went right?” was the Americans philosophical response to the defeat. In his eyes it had been out of their hands. “It wasn’t so much us as it was them. I think we did all we could.”

The result put France firmly in the driving seat, while the Americans suddenly had to do something to retain their title that no American team had done in a final since 1902: recover from a 2-1 deficit.

Forget was set to face Sampras before Leconte would take on Agassi, each man knowing that one French win from the two rubbers would secure the Davis Cup.

Check out Sundays Action Replay for the final chapter of the story of the 1991 Davis Cup final.

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