Croatia can pass French exam

This weekend sees an historic Davis Cup final take place for the last time in its current guise, before the tournament gets revamped for 2019, as it fights for its place in the busy tennis schedule.

France host Croatia at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, the venue of their triumph of last season where they beat Belgium 3-2 to join Great Britain on 10 wins and they will be hoping that home advantage counts as they look to climb into sole third in the all-time list, admittedly some way behind Australia and the United States, who boast 28 and 32 wins respectively.

Croatia have only won the Davis Cup once before, in 2005, but they did reach the final two years ago and while they already have an established star in their ranks, another burgeoning talent has shown that he could be a major force at the top of the game in years to come.

Taking a glance at the world rankings and it is not unsurprising that Croatia have been installed as the favourites at 1.50, with Marin Cilic holding seventh spot and Borna Coric having risen all the way to 12 this year.

No-one in the France squad is inside the world top 30 and in a surprising move, captain Yannick Noah has decided to overlook his highest-ranked player, Lucas Pouille at 32 – who has won all three Davis Cup matches he has played this season – for the opening singles rubbers and has put his faith in Jeremy Chardy and fans favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has endured an injury-ravaged campaign with this his first involvement in the Davis Cup this year.

France, priced as the 2.45 underdogs, are going to have to win at least two singles matches to retain their title and it may be that Pouille sees some action on Sunday, if the opening singles matches do not go according to plan.

Croatia, of course, did not have the choice of surface for the final, but it is worth noting that they did for their previous three matches and opted for clay each time for their wins over Canada, Kazakhstan and the USA, which will stand them in good stead when taking on the French.

Although they take to the court as favourites, both Coric – priced at 1.38 to win the opening singles against Jeremy Chardy (3.35) – and Cilic – 1.37 to overcome Tsonga (3.30) – have been beaten this term so all is not lost for the home fans.

Coric was beaten in four sets by Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarter-final against Kazakhstan, while Cilic lost to Sam Querrey, far from a renowned clay-courter, in the last-four win over the States.

One match where France appear to hold the edge is in the doubles with the powerful pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert having won Wimbledon earlier this year, while also finishing runners-up at the ATP World Tour finals.

A France victory in the doubles will at least give them a chance in the reverse singles, although Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig will be no pushovers, with the pair only beaten in five sets by the Americans while the former celebrated Australian Open success this year with partner Oliver Marach.

Still, it is difficult to see either Cilic or Coric losing twice over the course of the weekend, particularly with Tsonga not the force of old, and Croatia look worthy favourites to land a famous win.