Tennis: Belgium's Davis Cup hopes boosted as Goffin shines
By Julien Pretot
LILLE, France (Reuters) - Belgium's chances of claiming a maiden Davis Cup title against hosts France remained intact after Friday's opening singles, in which David Goffin made a huge impression, were tied 1-1.
The world number seven crushed local favourite Lucas Pouille 7-5 6-3 6-1 to take the first point before French number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga demolished Steve Darcis 6-3 6-2 6-1.
France picked Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert while Belgium chose Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore for Saturday's doubles but team captains can change their line-up up to one hour before the match.
And Goffin, who wasted little energy against Pouille, could well be considered by captain Johan Van Herck.
"Anything is possible. Honestly, everything can change. We have a lot of possible pairings," Goffin told a news conference.
"What's great is that I haven't used much energy. In three sets, it went quite fast."
Van Herck said: "He made a good impression today, of course it's an option."
On the French side, Tsonga, who also looked in ominous form, could play the doubles alongside Gasquet as captain Yannick Noah could be tempted to drop Herbert as the pair have never played together.
"That is something that we will decide between us tonight," said Noah.
Goffin, high on confidence since finishing runner-up at last weekend's ATP Finals, played the key points better at the end of the first set and never looked back. He did not face a single break point on the indoor hardcourt.
Emotions ran high early on as doubles specialist Julien Benneteau, who was surprisingly dropped from France's starting line-up on Thursday, burst into tears when the players were introduced to the 28,500 crowd at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.
Although Belgian fans were outnumbered in the stands, they were the most vocal.
Pouille had won his previous three encounters with Goffin, all played last year, but the Belgian was the more confident and composed player.
After resisting well in the opening set, relying on his whipping forehand, Pouille lost his aggressiveness and Goffin took full advantage.
World number 15 Tsonga, however, equalised with a ruthless display against Darcis.
The Frenchman wasted several break chances early on but once he found his stride, there was no hope for Darcis, the world number 76, who was overwhelmed.
Nine-time champions France have not won the Davis Cup since 2001, losing three finals since then, while Belgium, runners-up in 2015, have never claimed the title.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neil Robinson)