LONDON – A year after staving off relegation, France wrapped up its match with Argentina on Saturday to charge into the Davis Cup final for the first time since 2002.
Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement, survivors from the 2002 team, beat Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 to give France an unassailable 3-0 lead in Lyon.
"We have such a talented team, and we can't be satisfied with a runner-up place. We want to win (the trophy)," France captain Guy Forget said.
All four teammates — including Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon — plus bystanders Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Julien Benneteau celebrated on court in front of a lively Palais des Sports crowd with one eye on Belgrade, where the Czech Republic led Serbia 2-1 in the other semifinal.
France will be quietly cheering for the Czechs. If they win, they owe France a visit for a second consecutive final from Dec. 3-5. If Serbia comes back to win, it will host its first final.
Home has been crucial to France this year. After three years on the road, including a win a year ago in the Netherlands to stay in the World Group, France has taken full advantage of playing at home this year. In three ties against Germany, defending champion Spain and Argentina, France has dropped only one match in 13, and in that Tsonga retired injured.
"I am so proud to lead a team like this one," Forget said. "They have gone through a lot of things together. They struggled a bit last year but to see them on the court celebrating emotionally is very strong."
France has won the Davis Cup nine times, joint third with Britain on the overall list, behind only the United States and Australia. France won its last title in 2001 in Melbourne, Australia, then lost the 2002 final to Russia in Paris.
Serbian anchor Novak Djokovic withdrew from Friday's singles because he was still tired after losing the U.S. Open final Monday to Rafael Nadal. But after the opening singles with the Czech Republic were split, with Djokovic's replacement Viktor Troicki losing, Djokovic played the doubles on Saturday and hardly made a difference.
Czech stars Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek improved their record in Davis Cup doubles to 7-1 by conceding the first set 6-3 to Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic, recently the world's No. 1 doubles player, and sweeping the next three 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.
"We played as a team today," Berdych said. "I didn't feel that good after yesterday and after we lost the first set, but we had a good atmosphere on the court and I got better and better."
Djokovic will have to beat Wimbledon runner-up Berdych in the first reverse singles on Sunday to keep Serbia's hopes alive. The last singles pits Stepanek against Janko Tipsarevic.
The odds favor the Czechs, who reached the final last year only to be swept by Spain.