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Sports

Davis Cup final: France's Chardy targets early strike against Croatia

media Jeremy Chardy (left) will open France's defence of the Davis Cup. Marin Cilic (right) will play the second match of the opening day against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

France's Jérémy Chardy on Thursday talked up his chances of striking an early blow for his country in their Davis Cup final against Croatia. Chardy, 31, was part of the team that swept past Belgium last year to claim the crown.

In 2017 in Lille, France were the hot favourites and they won the trophy when Lucas Pouille, then inside the top 20 and the undisputed French number one, annihilated Steve Darcis 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 in 94 minutes.

A year later, Pouille has slumped in the rankings and will not even feature on the opening day. France captain Yannick Noah has entrusted Chardy, the world number 40, with the task of taking a point off Borna Coric, the Croatian number two.

Coric, 21, has enjoyed an impressive year. He beat Roger Federer on grass to win the Halle title. He also beat the Swiss veteran in the semi-final at the Shanghai Masters in October before losing to Novak Djokovic in the final.

Long touted as one of the stars of the circuit, Coric has risen to world number 12 on the back of such performances.

But despite the disparity in rankings, Chardy said: "I think that I'll have my chance and I'll do everything that I can to make the most of them when they arrive."

Chardy has won two of his three meetings with Coric. Their last clash came on the clay at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2017. Chardy edged that battle in three sets. Two years before, Coric swept past him in the last 32 on the clay at the Estoril Open.

Those ties were on outside courts. The 2018 Davis Cup final will also be on clay but indoors at a specially constructed arena at Lille football club's stadium.

"Borna is a good player and he has had good results this year but Yannick and I will prepare my tactics well and I'll give everything on court," said Chardy.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will play the second match on Friday against Marin Cilic, the top ranked Croatian.

Tsonga, a former world number five, is light years away from such heights. Following injuries he has slumped to 259 in the world.

Even contest

Cilic has roamed among the top 10 since 31 October 2016. As the highest ranked player at the final, he is, on paper, favourite to win two points for his country.

"Both teams have their advantages," said Cilic on the eve of the clash. "France are playing at home and in front of their own crowd. They have a strong team.

"But we have our qualities too. Both I and Borna have been playing well and so has our doubles team. I don't think we are favourites. I think it's going to be quite open."

The 30-year-old added: "Every match is going to be difficult and it should be very entertaining."

France are attempting to parade the trophy for the 11th time. Croatia have only won the title once.

There is extra incentive to hoist the cup this year. Next year the format of the competition will be changed and renamed the Davis Cup Finals.

It will take place at one location over one week. Eighteen teams will be divided into six groups of three.

After playing two ties of two singles and one doubles match, the group winners and the two best second places will advance to the quarter-finals.

From there it will be a knockout contest to decide the champion.

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