Davis Cup Final 2018: France Stays Alive with Doubles Win vs. Croatia

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2018

Mate Pavic of Croatia, bottom, returns the ball to France's Nicolas Mahut, right, and Pierre Hughes Herbert during the Davis Cup final between France and Croatia, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 in Lille, northern France. Croatia is within one point of a second Davis Cup title after Borna Coric and Marin Cilic dispatched their French rivals in the opening singles matches of the final to take a 2-0 lead. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert kept France alive in the 2018 Davis Cup final with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 doubles victory over Croatia's Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic on Saturday at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, France. 

The Croatians stormed out to a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five championship series Friday courtesy of singles wins by Borna Coric and Marin Cilic. The French tandem's triumph Saturday avoided the sweep and ensured the fixture will advance to a third and final day.

Croatia is scheduled to send Cilic out to face Jeremy Chardy in the opening match Sunday. Chardy will be tasked with trying to force a decisive clash between France team-mate Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Coric.

Mahut and Herbert came out firing on all cylinders in their effort to make sure the Davis Cup didn't end on their watch.

They won each of the first two sets without dropping a service game. Their play in the second set was particularly strong with 11 winners and just two unforced errors—a level of play necessary, since Dodig and Pavic won 88 percent of the points on their first serve to limit the French side's chances to break.

France generated a break point in the ninth game of the set and converted. A hold in the following game gave the host team a 2-0 edge.

José Morgado @josemorgado

Good lord this level from both Herbert and Mahut. Serve, return, net play, defense. Flawless.

Mahut and Herbert opened the third set with a break and pushed out to a 3-1 advantage before Dodig and Pavic put their comeback efforts into high gear. They captured five straight games on the strength of two service breaks to win the third.

Matt Roberts @Roberts96Matt

That’s a set of tremendous resistance from Pavic/Dodig. Almost down a double break, they roused the vociferous Croatian support by staying strong. Then they outplayed Mahut/Herbert. #DavisCupFinal

The Croatians nearly pulled off a Houdini act in the fourth, as they staved off three match points in the 10th game to extend the set.

It wasn't enough, however, as the French duo seized a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker and held serve to close out the match.

The Davis Cup highlighted the final point of France's clutch doubles win:

Davis Cup @DavisCup

There's still all to play for in Lille! France wins the doubles 64 64 36 76(3) to set up a thrilling final day on Sunday 🇫🇷1️⃣🆚2️⃣🇭🇷 #DavisCupFinal https://t.co/sGQl10ts6a

Now the pressure shifts from Mahut and Herbert to Chardy to keep the country's chances of winning back-to-back Davis Cup titles within reach.

The 31-year-old journeyman can't match Cilic's career resume, which is highlighted by winning the 2014 U.S. Open, but their head-to-head battles have been close. Cilic holds a slight 3-2 edge, but they split their two meetings in 2017. This will be their first matchup of 2018.

Tsonga and Coric await to see if they're needed for a winner-take-all fifth rubber.