France ended Australia’s Davis Cup World Group campaign as top ten stars Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga combined to defeat Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione in Saturday’s doubles.
Needing to win the rubber to keep the best-of-five claycourt tie alive, the Australians led early but fell 5-7 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-5 to give the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead.
The defeat in La Roche sur Yon, western France, means Australia must return to the World Group playoffs later this year in a bid to compete in the competition’s top tier again in 2015.
After Gasquet and Tsonga gave the hosts a 2-0 lead with singles victories over Nick Kyrgios and Hewitt respectively on Friday, France went for the quick kill by surprisingly pairing their two highest-ranked players together for the doubles.
It paid off, though France had to fight back from losing the first set and trailing 5-2 in the second.
Hewitt and Guccione, a previously unbeaten Davis Cup duo, made a nervy start, winning only a handful of points as France raced to a 3-0 lead.
However they found their rhythm to fight back and take the first set.
Australia carried their form into the second set, leading 5-2 before France rallied back.
With a boisterous crowd behind them, Gasquet and Tsonga won the next three games before taking the set in a tiebreak.
The duo, blending power and precision beautifully, dominated the third set and always maintained control in the fourth, despite Hewitt and Guccione’s game efforts to fight back.
Australian captain Pat Rafter will likely use Sunday’s two dead singles rubbers to hand a Davis Cup debut to Thanasi Kokkinakis, with fellow teenager Kyrgios scheduled to contest another rubber.
France could bring in Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau after they were overlooked for the doubles.
Australia had returned to the Davis Cup’s top 16 for the first time since 2007.
They were without the injured Bernard Tomic for this tie and were tipped to struggle against title contenders France.