Having waited so long to return to the Davis Cup World Group, Australia discovered the progress required to stay there after France ousted them inside two days.
A French side brimming with depth and talent ultimately needed just two players – top-ten stars Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – to build an unassailable 3-0 lead in their first-round tie on clay in La Roche sur Yon.
After winning singles matches on Friday, the duo teamed up to beat Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione 5-7 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-5 on Saturday, ensuring Australia will be forced back into the playoffs later this year to fight for a spot in the top tier in 2015.
Australian captain Pat Rafter always knew the nation’s first World Group tie since 2007 would be tough away from home, on clay, against quality opposition and missing the injured Bernard Tomic.
However he hopes the decision to include rising teenagers Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis in his squad can help ensure the 28-time champions can become World Group regulars again in the near future.
Rafter confirmed the teenagers would contest the reverse singles, both dead rubbers, on Sunday in a move that would hand Kokkinakis his Davis Cup debut.
“Bleeding these two young boys is what we’re all about,” Rafter said.
“They are the future. Three or four years down the track I think they’ll be very, very strong players so it’s a great opportunity right now to do that.
“… We came here and gave it out best shot, now we have to go home and regroup for qualifying.”
After Gasquet and Tsonga gave the hosts a 2-0 lead with singles victories over Kyrgios and Hewitt respectively on Friday, France went for the quick kill by pairing their two highest-ranked players together for Saturday’s doubles.
It paid off, though they had to fight back from losing the first set and trailing 5-2 in the second.
Hewitt and Guccione, a previously unbeaten Davis Cup duo, made a nervy start as France raced to a 3-0 lead.
However they found their rhythm to fight back and take the first set and their form carried on in the second.
But with a boisterous crowd behind them, Gasquet and Tsonga rallied back to take the set in a tiebreak.
The duo, blending power and precision beautifully, dominated the third set and always maintained control in the fourth, despite Hewitt and Guccione’s game efforts to fight back.
“I felt like we left it all out there and we had a crack and things didn’t quite go our way,” Hewitt said.
“We came here knowing it was going to be a really daunting ask.
“We came here with an inexperienced team as well and hopefully for the future there’s a couple of promising signs moving forward.”
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