Rafter hopes French feel the pressure
Australian Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter is hoping the pressure of favouritism could expose some mental frailties in French big guns Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during this week's Davis Cup showdown.
Australian Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter is hoping the pressure of favouritism could expose some mental frailties in French big guns Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during this week’s Davis Cup showdown.
Star-studded France are strongly fancied to defeat an Australian team missing the injured Bernard Tomic in the first-round World Group tie, starting on Friday in La Roche-sur-Yon.
Rafter says Australia, with a team including veteran Lleyton Hewitt and a pair of rising teenagers, are deserved underdogs but it could work in their favour.
Top 10 players Gasquet and Tsonga have had their mental toughness questioned at times over the years and Rafter believes the pressure is firmly on the home side for the indoor claycourt tie.
“Hopefully their boys are a little bit tight and our boys can control the games,” Rafter told AAP on Tuesday.
“On paper they (France) look good, they look strong but playing at home there’s all the expectations that come with that.
“It’s not something you plan for, you plan to beat them with the best game you can provide.
“But we’re hoping they have a few mental (issues) on the day.”
In Tomic’s absence, teenagers Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson have joined Hewitt and doubles specialist Chris Guccione in western France.
Rafter is keeping his selection cards close to his chest but it appears likely Hewitt and rapid riser Krygios will lead Australia into battle in day one singles.
However, Rafter could opt for a surprise by playing Kyrgios and debutant Kokkinakis in the opening singles to keep veteran Hewitt fresh for the doubles and reverse singles.
“There’ll be twists and turns throughout the tie on who plays and who doesn’t,” Rafter said.
“I do suspect that everyone will get a run in this tie at some stage.
“The boys have to be ready to play and hopefully they are all live rubbers.”
The fierce competition for places has been reflected in preparations, with Rafter describing this week’s practice hit-outs as “ultra-competitive”.
Hewitt, a veteran of 70 Davis Cup matches, is relishing the enthusiasm his younger teammates have brought to the squad.
And he’s shouldering the bulk of responsibility as Australia looks to avoid being sent into a World Group play-off for the eighth straight year.
“These two young guys are playing and stepping up to the mark,” said Hewitt, who won this month’s ATP title in Brisbane before losing in the first round of the Australian Open.
“For me it’s about leading by example on the court and using my experience that I’ve been able to gain from so many years and big ties.”
The tie is Australia’s first back in the elite 16-nation World Group since 2007.