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Guy Forget banking on team spirit

Paris: Memories of France’s tennis musketeers have proved a double-edged sword for the nation’s Davis Cup teams.

The deeds of Rene Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Jacques Brugnon in the 1920s and 1930s inspired generations of French youngsters to take up the game and led to the building of the Roland-Garros stadium.

But every French team for the past 60 years has been compared with the legendary quartet, who won six consecutive Davis Cup titles, and most have been found wanting.

Since the last of those consecutive victories in 1932, France have won the Davis Cup three times and on each occasion Guy Forget has been part of the squad.

Now captain of a team which caused a huge upset by beating Australia on grass in Melbourne last year, Forget takes inspiration from the musketeers — but those conjured from the imagination of Alexandre Dumas in the 19th century.

“All for one, one for all” has been Forget’s mantra since taking over as captain.

Team spirit, and the players’ ability to lift their game when on Davis Cup duty, has now led France to consecutive finals for the first time since 1933 — when the champions were still automatically guaranteed a place in the next year’s final.

Man for man France again appear at a disadvantage against Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin in this week’s final in Paris but French esprit de corps could be the decisive factor, according to Forget. “We spend everyday together from 0800 to 2300 and that creates strong bonds,” Forget said at the team’s training camp.

“That is team spirit and that is what makes our team powerful. On paper I think the Russians are stronger than us but our team spirit is stronger than the Russians.

“Those guys who keep the faith, who never give up — those are the ones who could make the difference. That’s before you talk about the 15,000 spectators in the Bercy stands. “They are the wind which blows in our sails.” In 1991, Forget beat Pete Sampras to earn his country a winning 3-1 lead in the final and he won his doubles tie in 1996 to help beat Sweden in one of the great finals of recent times.

The French captain on both occasions was Yannick Noah, and he was in the front row at Roland Garros when France beat the highly-fancied US in September’s semi-finals.

Noah, French Open champion in 1983, was a passionate player who inspired his team by his reputation. Forget takes a more forensic approach. Like Noah, he takes his team away for a week before Davis Cup ties to build up team spirit and concentration on the job in hand.

But whereas Noah hated following the men’s tour once he had retired as a player, Forget follows the circuit around the globe keeping a close eye on the French players’ performances.

He has learned his most important lesson from 1999, the last final played on French soil and Forget’s first as captain, when the team’s greatest enemy was the in-fighting between the players rather than their Australian opponents.

“You learn far more from defeats than victories,” Forget says. His team of Sebastien Grosjean, Arnaud Clement, Fabrice Santoro, Nicolas Escude and Paul-Henri Mathieu are comrades in a common cause and Forget enjoys their company.

“I am proud of them,” he says.

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