French players feted on return

Tennis

The triumphant French Davis Cup team were feted on their return to France as thousands of Parisians lined the Champs-Elysees yesterday.

The French President, Jacques Chirac, who hosted a reception for the players at the Elysee Palace, said of the quartet who beat Sweden 3-2 in a marathon final day in Malmo on Sunday: "They made us experience astonishing moments. We are infinitely proud of them."

Chirac congratulated the team, but he also praised television viewers who watched nearly 10 hours of the matches Sunday afternoon and evening, calling them "heroes of the little screen". Ratings showed that nearly 60 per cent of viewers tuned in to watch the last 15 minutes of the match, even though it was almost 11pm.

The players - Guy Forget, Arnaud Boetsch, Cedric Pioline and Guillaume Raoux - and the team captain, Yannick Noah, were driven down the Champs- Elysees in two open-top cars. They then drove to Roland Garros, home of the French Open, to place the Davis Cup at the foot of a statue of the late Rene Lacoste, who helped France win the trophy six successive times between 1927 and 1932. Lacoste died in October.

Rain stopped just in time for the parade and fans brought the players' cars to a standstill as they clamoured for autographs.

"It's incredible, when we were told we were going down the Champs-Elysees I didn't think there would be a crowd," said Boetsch, whose epic victory over Nicklas Kulti in the fifth match of the final in Malmo gave France the cup for the eighth time. It was the first time since the Davis Cup was created in 1900 that a final was decided in the fifth set of the fifth match.

It was only the third time in 20 years that a winning team has been feted on the Champs-Elysees; and the other two were both football teams. The honour was accorded to the 1976 European Cup finalists St Etienne and last season's European Cup-Winners' Cup champions, Paris St-Germain.

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