One of the advantages of technically still being in France is that I have relatively easy access to French TV, meaning that I was able to watch the highly anticipated Davis Cup final between France and Switzerland at the weekend.
For those who don’t know it, the Davis Cup is an annual event which is a bit like a world cup of tennis. Apart from the Olympics, it is the only event where elite tennis players play for their country rather than for individual glory. The French team, which included the popular Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the entertaining Gaël Monfils and the veteran Richard Gasquet, were playing the final at home on their chosen red clay surface, and were hoping to cause an upset against a Swiss team reliant on its two star men, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
In February, in my last attempt to write my blog in French, I wrote about Wawrinka’s wonderful Australian Open victory, which saw him become the first man from outside of the established ‘Top Four’ (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) to win a Grand Slam in five years. Wawrinka’s victory indeed proved to be a watershed moment, opening the way for several other players to break through – notably Marin Cilic, who won the US Open at the start of September.
Wawrinka’s stunning rise saw him finally step out of Federer’s shadow and join his fellow countryman at the elite table. And it was Wawrinka, a Davis Cup stalwart rain or shine, who persuaded Federer to join him this year in pursuit of the trophy. Federer had rarely played in the Davis Cup, having often chosen to prioritise his own career. But this year Federer returned, and his resurgent form and Wawrinka’s new found prowess made them a formidable team, despite limited back-up in the Swiss ranks.
In many ways, the week leading up to the final was more dramatic than the final itself. The weekend before, Federer and Wawrinka played against each other in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Finals in London. Federer won a hotly contested match, but injured his back in the process, declaring forfeit for the final against Novak Djokovic. It then turned out that the pair had had some sort of altercation after the match regarding Federer’s wife shouting out during the match. For a while it looked like it might be a massive Swiss own goal. The days before the final were dominated by speculation regarding morale in the Swiss camp and the condition of Federer’s back.
As it turned out, Federer’s back recovered in time and the clear friendship between the two Swiss players remains as strong as ever. Wawrinka and Federer both played some extraordinary tennis, particularly in their doubles match against Gasquet and Benneteau on the Saturday. Gaël Monfils’s stunning victory over Federer aside, they were unstoppable. Federer sealed the Swiss triumph on Sunday with victory over a helpless Gasquet.
It was a resounding triumph for the Swiss team, and the first time that they have ever won the Davis Cup. Winning this trophy for Switzerland was clearly a dream come true for all those involved. On a personal level, the Davis Cup was the only major honour missing from Federer’s collection of silver and gold, which could now be considered complete. For Wawrinka, it is an incredible end to an incredible year, and a deserved reward for many years faithfully representing the Swiss team. It caps off a remarkable era in which the country has been blessed with two Grand Slam winning tennis players.
But more than anything, it was a monumental moment in Swiss sporting history. It is rare that a Swiss team wins a world championship in a sport that doesn’t involve ice or snow. And they beat the French to do it. Despite taking place in Lille, a surprising number of Swiss fans managed to get tickets, and much of the final was played out with the sound of cowbells ringing around the arena. Those fans were there to witness a special moment for Swiss sport.
If there were doubts about the continuing validity or value of the Davis Cup, these have surely now been erased. Over 27,000 fans watched the final in Lille, setting a new record attendance for an official competitive tennis match. François Hollande attended on the Saturday. Tsonga, injured after the first game, cried during La Marseillaise the following day. Federer shed tears of joy after victory. We might not talk very much about the Davis Cup in the UK, but this was definitely a big deal.