Interview with the French Team
What do you feel after a match so intense that you almost lost, but you faced the situation?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes, it was possible to lose it. At the time, in fact, in the beginning of the fourth set, things were going badly for us. We were able to turn it around. After the fourth and fifth set were very good. We were more efficient. We were very happy.
But the main objective will be Sunday evening. For the time being it's 2-1; it's not finished.
What is the major problem when you play against Kafelnikov and Safin? Is it their serve?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Not only the quality of their serve, but the quality of their returns also, and their power. They hit the ball very hard. In the third set and the end of the second set, it was almost shooting. There were no mistakes on their part. We tried to put the ball back into the court, and it was very difficult. At that time they played very well because of their power.
I believe the major factor we had was the quality of our serve to prevent them from returning too well, and to be solid enough at the net, be it the first or the tenth shot.
What happened to you during the match?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: I fell on my back. I had a pain, so I requested a break to see with the doctor if I could play, if it was going to be better. Just afterwards I had to serve. I had many problems twisting. Fortunately, I had easy volleys and I was able to catch up. After we were ahead in the score. The more the match continued, the better we were playing. That's why we won it.
The third man was the crowd. Did it work?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes. I tried to ask them to support me - first for me, and second to bother the Russians. There were about 15,000 people singing, yelling. When you have that against you, it can bother you. They started questioning themselves.
Can you compare this doubles with your two singles matches last year in Melbourne?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: It's completely different. Doubles are completely different. Instead of playing two singles, you play only for one point, the doubles. You also have to be concentrated all the time. In doubles, sometimes you can have the help of your colleague if you have a letdown, but in singles you have to concentrate all the time because it only depends on you. That's the difference.
What were you reading on the face of the Russians during the match?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: I realized they were missing more and they were trying to hit harder, to try difficult things, without success. It was all the better for us.
Do you feel something special playing with Fabrice in doubles?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes, it's very easy because I know he will not have a letdown for half an hour. Maybe on one or two games he can have a letdown, otherwise he's always present. He makes very few mistakes. Of course, he's not comparable to Llodra or Cedric, but he's so consistent. At the beginning of the fourth and end of the third, I was not so good, and he was able to sustain the rhythm, to help me.
Did you fear you wouldn't be able to continue the match because of your injury?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Well, I had pain in my back. Of course, the more I got cold, the worse is gets. On this particular point, I played that overhead and I fell. Guy asked me if I wanted to stop immediately for the three minutes, which I said I wanted an extra game to see how it would turn out. After I took the break because it was really hurting.
But in order for me not to play at all and not finish the match, it had to be very serious.
Were you always confident? Sometimes during practices you lost matches. How was it in your mind?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: We tried to improve several shots in a row. We tried to improve our serve, our returns during practice, our combinations of games, to get used to one another. Although we knew each other well already, we didn't have much experience together. We tried to add some more information.
What role did friendship play today?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Friendship always plays an enormous role in that kind of thing. Be it him or me, we were pushing each other. When I missed an easy point, we were speaking to each other, and he was encouraging me, and vice versa.
When you don't have an understanding of the other player, it can turn out bad, but this is not the case.
What do you feel when you win a point in the fifth set, it was on your serve, you succeeded in that point?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Well, it was a great success because they were hitting harder and harder. We felt they were becoming impatient, and we were able to win that point, which was very good for us. It did us a lot of good. After that, Marat started missing some passing shots, which he didn't miss before, or easy points, because he was becoming impatient. These kinds of points are very important.
At one stage did you believe Marat was the only one on the court and he was going to stay strong during the whole match?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: We were expecting him to have letdowns on his serve because he was serving so well he didn't even have to play a volley afterwards. Of course, in the beginning he was carrying the whole team, but in the end he was the one making mistakes right or left.
When we broke back in the fourth, I think that was a turning point because afterwards he started serving not so well.
In the past 25 years, the winner always won doubles. Do you still believe that?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: I believe the point from the doubles is very important, but it's not finished, as you say. I hope the logic will be respected tomorrow.
Do you believe the nine sets that Marat Safin played will be a factor tomorrow?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes. That's a reason why we chose this surface because we took this into account. I'm sure it's going to play a role. Sebastien only played three sets, so it's going to be a factor.
Did you have a bout in the beginning of the match with your back?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes, I had one. In fact, what is strange is that from the beginning of the match, I was the one who had nothing. All the others had blisters or something. Then it happened to me.
Did you worry about it before?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: No, I had no worries before. In Moscow, I felt a bit stiff in the back. I knew this match was going to be very difficult, that's why I took the precaution to use the belt.
Do you believe Kafelnikov is not playing at his best this weekend? Are you surprised?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: Yes and no. I'm surprised with his match yesterday. Physically, he's absolutely not at the right level, not for a Davis Cup tie on clay. Everything is played over three days. Given the Russian team, it's the same players for the three days, so I thought physically he would be in better shape.
What do you see for the fifth match? Do you think he's going to play the fifth match?
NICOLAS ESCUDE: I can't see it otherwise. Kafelnikov said a long time ago that he would have Youzhny to play on Friday to save himself for the doubles so I'm sure he's going to play on Sunday.
Fabrice, can you compare this happiness with the one you had in Melbourne last year, or is it completely different?
FABRICE SANTORO: It's funny because Clement asked me exactly that question in the locker room. Anyway, both doubles will remain forever in my memory because they were very important. One was played 20,000 kilometers from here, the other one was at home. I think those kind of matches are difficult to compare. I can't say which one was the best, but they are the best in my career.
How do you analyze the match, the different parts of the game?
FABRICE SANTORO: I think we dominated easily the first set. The second set we had a breakpoint with Kafelnikov. It could have been the moment to really take the match into our hands. On the contrary, the situation reversed. It's not because our level was lower, but they started serving very well. They had very good returns. At that particular moment, we didn't know exactly how to face them and how to play winning volleys. We had problems. We were a bit worried because we were not finding solutions.
In the fourth set, we stayed a bit behind on their serve to make them play more, and we started returning better and becoming more consistent. Things turned around again. But the suspense remained until the end of the match in the fifth set. Escude had to save a breakpoint on his serve. After that, we started playing well again.
Did you volley better and better as the match progressed? Did you win that match at the net?
FABRICE SANTORO: Sometimes when you have two very tall guys, 1 meter 95, and serving well, you don't really know what to do at the net. With Nico at one point I said, "Now, we have to bend our knees and play as if we were a wall and not miss a single volley. If they do better than us, congratulations, but we will resist." This is how it happened.
There were volleys all over the place. We were trying to do our best. It was difficult because it was going very fast and they were hitting very hard.
You know that the doubles were crucial. Do you believe it's a good omen?
FABRICE SANTORO: Well, of course, yesterday the objective had been achieved, 1-All. Today we wanted to be 2-1, be ahead. That's done. Now the third objective might be more difficult. I hope tomorrow evening the objective will be reached with a third point.
When you play against Safin, you disturbed him more than you did today.
FABRICE SANTORO: I never played Marat in doubles yet. Singles and doubles are not comparable. I believe he played a good match today. Both of them were able to improve their games after a while, so it was really difficult for us. But I believe he was not serving as well at the end of the match. He didn't have so many first serves.
Do you believe it was physical or mental on his part?
FABRICE SANTORO: I don't believe Kafelnikov or Marat had letdowns. The eagerness to win, I think we were better than they were. We used the crowd in our favor. I told you we had two or three objectives in our mind when we went onto the court, and it's certainly thanks to this that we won the match today because we really wanted to be ahead tonight.
So for you there's no doubt Kafelnikov will play tomorrow?
FABRICE SANTORO: Well, it doesn't matter. That's what I would say. The important thing is that Sebastien and Paul-Henri play tomorrow in the same way, with as much enthusiasm, using their qualities. We can count maybe on an injury on the other side, a letdown. But you can't really count on that. We have to believe that tomorrow we'll have two difficult players to beat.
You're talking about Mathieu and Sebastien. Do you consider your weekend over?
FABRICE SANTORO: I remain concentrated, as I was during every tie. We had a mission with Nico today. The objective is achieved and we're very happy. Tomorrow I am available for the team. If I have to step on the court, I will, but there's no reason. Sebastien and Paul-Henri, winning or losing yesterday, did what they had to do. They played good matches. There's no reason why things should change.
But I'm not going to party tonight. I'm going to go to bed early and be in good shape tomorrow.
Guy, were you really afraid during the doubles?
CAPTAIN FORGET: Not really. The worst that could happen was losing the doubles, and I would have been very angry then because when I saw them playing well, Fabrice and Nico are more complete technically, more precise than the Russians, they miss less points, even difficult shots under the net they're able to get, well-placed. It would have been a disappointment. In spite of that, we were within one millimeter of losing. At one stage I thought maybe it was over. I think the merit of our team was that they kept on fighting until the end.
I had sometimes violent moments when I was talking to Fabrice and Nico because I didn't want to lose that match this way, not in this way. I was furious because we were not able to play the way we were capable of doing. When they were able to break back, they had a good attitude, they were making the right choices. When I saw that, it was the key of the match in my mind. There were simple things that had to be respected. After that, I think they were dominating. The attitude at one stage was not sufficient.
What did you ask of them?
CAPTAIN FORGET: I asked them to be more aggressive, to walk with their head high, to avoid being passed down the line because some things were making me really bothered. For Nico it was a bit difficult because he had a pain in his back. He was playing two points correctly, then at one point he was only 70%. I was furious. I knew he was carrying his cross because of that. I'm just being characteristic.
The merit he had was to realize that in spite of his state he could produce something a lot better, and he started walking with his head high. Sometimes Fabrice was covering two-thirds of the court, and Nico was keeping his side of the court. It worked. Little by little, they came back into the match. After I had nothing to say, I was happy with the way they were playing.
We can believe a victory in five sets is the ideal situation because maybe tiredness might be a factor tomorrow.
CAPTAIN FORGET: I would like to have the same semifinals as in Argentina. 19-17 in the fifth would have been even better. Of course, for Kafelnikov it's not better to have to play five sets. He needs to rebound from that, recuperate. Now the Russians have the right not to make a single mistake anymore. I think we were much more motivated and positive tonight.
Tomorrow you're going to choose Sebastien and Paul-Henri?
CAPTAIN FORGET: First of all, I'm starting with Sebastien, and I'm hoping it will be enough. Last night I really wondered about that. It was important to prepare. But for the time being, I have my mind elsewhere. I'm in a press conference. I have the players having a massage. I'll think about it later.
But tonight we are going to all talk together. I'm going to announce them late tonight, what will happen. Of course, something can happen before tomorrow. Someone can sleep badly, for example, I don't know. We'll see what will happen.
There's an enormous difference between the French and the Russians. In your team, there's a team spirit, whereas among the Russians, they seem to be soft, not very energetic.
CAPTAIN FORGET: I don't have to judge their behavior. I can only speak about the French. When we cross people from the Russian delegation in the corridors, we can see they're completely different from us. But I believe maybe some of these people suffered more than we did. Maybe they are more careful. Marat Safin is a wonderful guy. You have to learn how he is, to learn to know him. But sometimes when the players are winning or losing, among them I didn't feel special emotions, whereas I was suffering in my seat.
This difference between your team and theirs, your is so united, can it make the difference?
CAPTAIN FORGET: It's a plus in our favor. I don't know if it can really make the difference. But our guys are used to working that way. I don't think you have to change your habits. If I had asked my guys to go and run at 7:00 in the morning in the rain, it would change our habits. I mean, each player has his own habits. They have their own family, as Marat says, their environment. That's the way they are.
A question about the crowd. You thought it was not enthusiastic enough yesterday. Was it better today?
CAPTAIN FORGET: Well, I think, first, from Fabrice, there was more communication with the crowd. He was telling them, "It's going to burn." Sebastien started yesterday to get the stadium come alive. Both players today did it. I hope it's going to be the same tomorrow, like in Roland Garros, a real explosion.
ATP: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Michael Llodra, Roger Federer, Mardy Fish
WTA: Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva