LILLE, France — Roger Federer's valiant attempt to shake off a back injury backfired spectacularly when the Swiss 17-time Grand Slam champion was swept aside by Gael Monfils Friday as France leveled the Davis Cup final at 1-1 on Friday.
Monfils triumphed 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 and posted his first win on clay over Federer, who decided to play despite the injury that forced him to pull out of the title match at the ATP Finals last Sunday.
Federer had only two short training sessions earlier this week and looked out of sorts while Monfils hit 44 winners including 10 aces. The Swiss, who is chasing a maiden win in the team competition, dropped his serve five times and could not convert the two break points he earned.
It was a stark contrast to Federer's superb display in London last week, where he eased past opponents but hurt his back during his semifinal victory over Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka. Federer, however, said switching from hard court to clay and being short of practice was the main reason for his loss, rather than pain.
"Clearly I did feel, not having hit and played and moved at all for five days, and Gael did play well," he said. "It's not like I couldn't play at all. It was a proper match, and he was the better player at the end."
Federer believes he needs to spend more time on court to rediscover his game and is ready for Saturday's doubles.
"I would be ready to do that if ever it's the best choice," the 33-year-old said. "As I said before, I'm waiting for better things this weekend. I'm coming out of the match without any pain, which is good, too. It was not a five setter with me totally exhausted."
Earlier, Wawrinka had put the Swiss ahead by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Monfils sealed his win in less than two hours on his first match point with a backhand down the line, getting a measure of revenge after his tough loss to the Swiss in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, when the Frenchman lost in five sets after going up two sets to one and failing to convert two match points.
"That helped me a lot. At the U.S. I changed my game plan, I was like very close. I was like dominating him most of the match. Then maybe I had little nerves at the end," Monfils said. "Today was a bit of the same, but I played much better, I had a different game plan and I delivered a more aggressive tennis."
If Federer plays the doubles, he will be teaming up with Wawrinka. The Australian Open champion started strong against Tsonga and overcame a second-set lapse by regaining control of the opening singles match with an aggressive display that paid off.
Wawrinka, who scored 25 points at the net, closed out the match with a winning volley, then pointed to his head with his index finger, his trademark celebration gesture.
"My strength is playing aggressive, I could not win that match staying on the baseline," he said. "I had to come forward."
Wawrinka took control of rallies with his deep groundstrokes. He converted his second break point for a 3-1 lead as he won eight consecutive points and took the Frenchman's serve again.
Tsonga had to fight hard in the opening game of the second set to hold after saving another break point with a fierce smash before one of the 27,432 spectators — a record for a Davis Cup match — shouted "Crybaby, cry," a reference to the word reportedly yelled by Federer's wife at Wawrinka last weekend during the ATP Finals semi between the Swiss pair.
Wawrinka did not react but his play dropped off while Tsonga started to serve better. He put the Swiss under pressure in the fourth game with a series of good returns and Wawrinka handed him the break with a double fault.
Tsonga stayed in control to level the tie at one set apiece but showed his nerves in the sixth game of the third set, hitting three unforced errors including a double fault to drop his serve.
The fourth-ranked Swiss continued to put Tsonga on the back foot by taking all the risks on his opponent's second serve and broke immediately with another superb backhand at the start of the fourth set. He frustrated Tsonga with a series of backhand and forehand winners in the seventh game as the Frenchman dropped his serve again.
Switzerland is bidding for its first Davis Cup title, while France is seeking its 10th. This is the 13th meeting between the teams, with France leading 10-2.