Tennis: Action replay: France rejoices as new musketeers lift the Davis Cup

The Davis Cup final of 1991 seemed a formality for the United States. Although played in Lyon, France were massive underdogs against a side which included Agassi and Sampras. But, as always, the French had other ideas. ALAN FRASER filed this report for The Independent
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THE FEATS of the Musketeers 60 years ago will remain large in the history of French sport but a new chapter was written most gloriously yesterday when France won the Davis Cup for the first time since 1932. Victory for Guy Forget over Pete Sampras gave them a winning 3-1 lead amid scenes of jubilation rarely, if ever, witnessed in any tennis arena. It was not surprising, but indeed sensible, that the decision was taken not to play the fifth rubber.

You could forgive the watching 93-year-old Jean Borotra, who played in the last victorious team, restricting his celebrations to clapping. The remainder of the 8,000 crowd in the Palais des Sports here hugged, danced and sang in a mass exorcism of two generations of failure. Yannick Noah, the French captain, also sang, using the word loosely, at the head of a conga line which snaked around the court in one of many laps of honour. The Legion d'Honneur next, one would suspect.

It would not have gained a point in the Euroviosion Song Contest but in this contest, as the American captain Tom Gorman was later to concede, the French won all the crucial points at all the important moments. They deserved their moment of triumph.

Forget revelled in his. He threw his racket, then himself, to the floor and lay on his back, to be joined in ecstatic embrace by Noah, who had leapt the net and would have created a new high jump record had there been a bar. The rest of the French squad followed to form a joyous scrum

Sampras, a 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 loser, walked quietly and disconsolately off court and through the exit, as did Gorman and the rest of the vanquished American squad. The absence of any handshake - it was almost 15 minutes before Noah and Gorman exchanged congratulations and commisertaions - reflected no lack of courtesy on either part, merely that France, the team and the nation, were celebrating.

And how they celebrated. Henri Leconte, the hero of the previous two days, expended the energy he had been saving for the encounter with Andre Agassi in running round waving a huge French flag and he shed tears when Noah told spectators of the letter that Leconte's young son, Maxim, had sent. "Papa, win the Cup for me and bring it home," it read.

Forget threw his sweatbands and his shirt into the stands and Noah, when he was not being carried on his squad's shoulders, became director turned cameraman, using a video camera to record the occasion for posterity. A colourful spectacle to look back on instead of those sepia photographs of the deeds of Borotra and Co.

The Musketeers were four, but Forget and Leconte were just two... and not that willing to be compared. "We have not achieved one hundreth of what they did," Forget said, though those who would disagree numbered many millions yesterday. A victory parade along the Champs-Elysees seemed a distinct possibility.

The tale of two heroes had begun with Leconte's defeat of Sampras and ended in another reverse for the former US Open champion, who was to discover that the unique pressure and special atmosphere generated by the Davis Cup can distort the messages which the brain tries to send to the racket hand. How else to explain the easiest of forehands which he missed when the match was most delicately balanced at the start of the third set. Sampras seemed beaten from that moment.

If Sampras succumbed to the moment, then Forget found it an inspiration. Never more so than at 30-40, 5-3 when serving for the third set. The ace was one of 17 he produced but, coming on a second serve, there had never been a braver one. "There are times when you have to take risks," he said.

Two more aces in a row secured that set and his nerve, previously not his strongest suit, held throughout an increasingly tense fourth set, played against a background of constant cacophonous frenzy.

The Americans underestimated both the strength of the opposition and the strength of the opposition's desire, as Forget suggested. "I don't think the American team realised how much the Davis Cup meant to the French team and the French nation," he said.

"We have the soccer World Cup, the Tour de France and the Davis Cup. There are probably 10 different things more important than the Davis Cup in America."

The losers shoud have read their history. French tennis underwent a revolution in 1968 in order to win the Davis Cup and the revolutionary leader, Philippe Chatrier, was in Lyons to see the fulfilment of his dream. "It was a long time coming, but it was worth it," he said.