LILLE, France (AP) — France captain Yannick Noah surprisingly cut Nicolas Mahut from his squad to face Belgium in the Davis Cup final this weekend, and declined to elaborate on his decision.
Noah, who has captained France to victory twice, instead included Richard Gasquet in his four-man team at Thursday’s draw.
Mahut was expected to play doubles after training the whole week with Julien Benneteau, who also was not selected.
“I don’t want to speak about the players who are not there,” Noah said when asked to explain his decision. “It does not mean that I don’t think about them. Now we have a goal to achieve, the final starts tomorrow. I have four players ready to do their best and defend our colors.”
Mahut played with Pierre-Hugues Herbert at the ATP Finals in London last week but the pair had to withdraw because Herbert’s lower back pain. They later joined their France teammates for a Davis Cup training camp.
Herbert said he has now fully recovered from his back problem and Noah stressed that Gasquet is in “excellent” form following a season marred by injuries.
David Goffin will open play for Belgium against Lucas Pouille on Friday, and Steve Darcis will follow against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Gasquet and Herbert, who have never played together in an official competition, are set to play against Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore in Saturday’s doubles.
“The first time I played for France in Davis Cup it was against the best pair in the world. I played with Francois Jauffret and we won,” Noah said. “There is always a first time for everything.”
Captains have until one hour before matches to change their lineup and Tsonga said he will be ready to play three days in a row if Noah asks him to take part in the doubles at the last minute.
Nine-time champion France lost its three previous finals, in 2002, 2010 and 2014. Seeking its first title since 2001, it is under huge pressure against a Belgian team happy to contend with the outsider tag.
Belgium, in the final for the second time in three years, will count on Goffin in its quest for a first title. Goffin arrived in Lille, where the hosts have opted for an indoor hard court, with his confidence boosted by a runner-up spot at the ATP Finals. In London, he beat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I’m happy to start the first match,” Goffin said. “Steve preferred to play second. It’s the perfect draw for us. But it’s won’t be easy to start against Lucas, I never beat him before. The key will be to play relax and to play my best tennis.”
Belgium captain Johan Van Herck also changed his original team to include De Loore, who has not played on tour since the U.S. Open after undergoing surgery in September.
De Loore has been involved in two crucial five-set Davis Cup doubles victories for Belgium over the past two years, against Germany this year and Brazil in the 2016 World Group playoffs.
“I felt very good at training and my knee has been holding well,” De Loore said. “I’m 100 percent ready to play this weekend.”
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