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Davis Cup: (a priori) smooth start in Chinese Taipei for Paul-Henri Mathieu, new captain of the Blues

The 4,300 seats at the Taipei Tennis Center are expected to be full on Saturday and Sunday.

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Davis Cup: (a priori) smooth start in Chinese Taipei for Paul-Henri Mathieu, new captain of the Blues

The 4,300 seats at the Taipei Tennis Center are expected to be full on Saturday and Sunday. For an improbable feat by the locals. Because if France were to fall in Taiwan in an unprecedented encounter, it would undoubtedly be one of its biggest fiascos in the history of the century-old competition. We know that the latter no longer has much to do with the “real” Davis Cup. But this qualifying round or play-off match is played "the old-fashioned way" on the principle of "home and away" which was the spice of the event.

The draw had decided. The Blues, on the other side of the world, face a small tennis nation, whose best players are ranked between 250th and 300th place. Regulars of the secondary circuits. Chun Hsin Tseng (22 years old) is languishing in 305th place. The former 2018 junior world number 1, winner of Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, whose best ranking was 83rd, is one of the likely players with Tung-Lin Wu, 238th, Yu Hsiou Hsu, 230th and Jason Jung, 244th. to be lined up in singles. “We know the complexity and danger of playing away. These are players ranked around 200th in the world and very good on fast surfaces,” Paul-Henri Mathieu underlined in a press release with due caution.

For his first at the head of the Blues, the former high-level director at the FFT from 2021 to 2023 could have inherited a tougher draw... After initially calling on Arthur Fils and Ugo Humbert, to accompany Adrian Mannarino, new 17th in the world, he chose Quentin Halys, 27, and Luca Van Assche, 19, who are wearing the blue tunic for the first time. In doubles, he will rely on the pair Nicolas Mahut – Édouard Roger-Vasselin. “We waited for the first tournaments and I decided to replace Fils with Halys,” assured Mathieu. Quentin is very versatile. He is comfortable on fast surfaces and can play singles and doubles. Van Assche told the FFT website that he had fond memories of the Blues' victory in Lille in 2017 (against Belgium). And for the other neophyte Quentin Halys: “It was a lot of emotion because I didn’t expect it. I have number 96. Not even 100 of us have worn this jacket. It's truly something unique. It’s the ultimate holy grail to represent your country. It’s up to me to do everything I can to come back there more often.”

A little less than a month after the departure of Sébastien Grosjean, new coach of Arthur Fils, Paul-Henri Mathieu, 41, was named captain of the Blues. “PHM” will also be responsible for the men’s delegation for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. New captain, new staff. Laurent Raymond is the new coach and another Laurent (Laffite) manages physical preparation. The latter worked in particular with Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza.

The former 12th player in the world, 4 titles on the ATP circuit (Moscow and Lyon in 2002; Casablanca and Gstaad in 2007) does not necessarily have lasting memories of this competition as a player. In 2002, in the final against Russia on the clay court of Bercy, the Alsatian was overthrown by Mikhail Youzhny, 20 years old like him, and after more than 4 hours 30 when he had led two sets to nothing, then 4 -2 in the fourth round... A terrible disillusionment which had not tainted his love for this competition. “I played tennis for the Davis Cup,” he assured during his introductory press conference. I experienced very intense moments during these meetings, sometimes difficult like in 2002 and sometimes very joyful like when I beat Carlos Moya, at home, in Alicante, in 2004.”

During his induction, Mathieu declared mid-December: “I am convinced that by combining the experience of certain players with this promising new generation that is arriving, we have all the assets in hand to achieve great things. My ambition will be to create a strong group spirit, share this confidence and support them towards success. It is up to the new captain to stop the negative spiral of the Blues, who remain on three eliminations from the group stage in September. The last one in Manchester against Great Britain was particularly painful. The adventure therefore begins in Asia. While waiting for the Olympic dream next July…

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