Djokovic pulls out; France eyes final

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Gael Monfils of France reacts during his single Davis Cup world group semi-final tennis match against David Nalbandian of Argentina in Lyon September 17, 2010.

PARIS - Serbia's passionate dream of reaching a first Davis Cup final survived the shock withdrawal of world No 2 Novak Djokovic on Friday while France eased to the verge of December's title match.

US Open runner-up Djokovic withdrew from the opening rubber of the semifinal against the Czech Republic complaining of gastro-enteritis with teammate Victor Troicki, the world No 47, stepping into the breach.

Radek Stepanek, who helped take the Czechs to the final last year, overcame Troicki 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to give his side a 1-0 lead.

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Members of France's team celebrate in the cloakroom after their victory over Argentina in their Davis Cup world group semi-final tennis matches in Lyon September 18, 2010.

But a vocal crowd of 15,000 in Belgrade then carried Janko Tipsarevic to a 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (5) win over world No 7 Tomas Berdych, the Wimbledon runner-up, to leave the tie finely-balanced ahead of Saturday's doubles.

"It feels great to beat a top 10 player at home," said Tipsarevic, who knocked Andy Roddick out of the US Open.

"It didn't matter what happened (with Djokovic). My plan was to play well from start to finish."

Djokovic had only returned from America early on Wednesday after losing to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final on Monday.

But he hinted he was ready to return to play on Saturday as well as Sunday's reverse singles if necessary.

"I heard Djokovic wasn't going to play about three hours before the start," said Stepanek.

"But it's not our problem. You have to be ready for whoever is on the other side of the net."

Stepanek said it was his best performance since his return to action.

"When you play for your country, you have a lion in your heart," he said.

France, a nine-time winner, was 2-0 ahead of Argentina in its semifinal in Lyon after Michael Llodra served and volleyed his way to a 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over Juan Monaco.

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French tennis player Gael Monfils celebrates after teammates Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement beat Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina in their Davis Cup world group doubles semi-final tennis match in Lyon September 18, 2010.

World No 15 Gael Monfils then saw off David Nalbandian 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Llodra, the world No 30, showed no signs off the dizziness which forced him to retire in the US Open third round.

Service proved the key difference for the Frenchman as he sent down 22 aces compared to the Argentine's five.

"I was very nervous at the start," said Llodra. "But I had to focus and play my game because anything can happen in the Davis Cup."

In the playoffs to clinch a World Group place in 2011, Kazakhstan made the most of Roger Federer's decision not to play by opening a 2-0 lead over Switzerland in Astana.

Andrey Golubev saw off Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 before Mikhail Kukushkin defeated Stanislas Wawrinka, a player he had lost to in the first round of the US Open just two weeks ago, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

The United States, which has been the Davis Cup winner on a record 32 occasions, was1-1 with in Bogota where it is trying to avoid suffering a first relegation since 1988.

Colombia's Santiago Giraldo overturned a 40-place ranking difference to score a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over world No 21 Sam Querrey after Mardy Fish had given the US the lead with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Alejandro Falla.

In Cairns, 28-time champion Australia was leading 2-1 against Belgium.

Former world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt put Australia ahead, overcoming 22-year-old Ruben Bemelmans in scorching conditions in just more than three hours 7-6 (4), 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. Olivier Rochus then beat Carsten Ball 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (5). In the doubles, Hewitt and Paul Hanley defeated Bemelmans and Rochus 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

In other play-offs, Brazil was 2-0 up India, Germany was 2-0 against South Africa while Israel was 2-1 in front against Austria. Italy and Sweden were 1-1 while Romania looked set for the World Group after opening a 2-0 lead against Ecuador.

Agence France-Presse