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France takes Davis Cup lead on Canada

Canada's Daniel Nestor (L) and Milos Raonic talk while their doubles team plays against France during the Davis Cup tennis match in Vancouver, British Columbia February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Ben Nelms/Reuters

Favoured France has a 2-1 lead over Canada entering the decisive day of World Group Davis Cup play.

Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau provided the edge Saturday with a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (2), 6-3 doubles victory over veteran Daniel Nestor of Toronto and youthful Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont.

The French broke Raonic's serve in the final game as Lloyd hit a cross-court return for 40-15 and Benneteau finished the match with a shot that Raonic couldn't reach in the alley.

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Before the match, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau replaced Vasic Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., with the hard-hitting Raonic, who blasted several serves in excess of 220 kmh.

The result means the tie will hinge on Sunday's reverse singles.

The scheduled pairings are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga against Raonic and Pospisil facing Benneteau in the final match of the best-of-five tie.

A boisterous drum-beating, flag-waving crowd dressed in red and white filled most of a hockey rink built on the University of British Columbia campus for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Many wore national team hockey sweaters while a blue-clad French contingent waved the tricolour.

Both teams had three break points in the first set but failed to convert until the French dominated the 7-1 tiebreaker.

The left-handed Llodra, ranked fifth in the world in doubles, ended the tiebreak with a cross-court winner after earlier serving an ace and delivering a backhand volley at the net.

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The Canadians fared little better in the second-set tiebreak.

Llodra ended it with an eighth ace of the match after Benneteau blasted an overhead that Nestor couldn't handle for a 6-2 lead.

A pair of forehand errors by Llodra enabled the Canadians to prevent the French from breaking Raonic's serve in the tenth game of the set.

Llodra was the first to convert a break point in the third set when his backhand volley at the net was too hot for Raonic to handle and the French took a 2-1 lead on Nestor's serve.

The winner of the tie will face the United States in the quarter-finals in April. The loser is shunted to a relegation playoff to stay in the World Group.

Canada, playing in the 16-country top tier for the first time in eight years, gained a 1-1 draw Friday when 29th-ranked Raonic defeated Benneteau 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.

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Tsonga, No. 6 in the world, opened with a routine 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 win over Pospisil, who is 115th in singles play.

The Canadians face a tough draw against the French, who are seeded fourth as a team.

Only Raonic has a singles ranking below 100 while the French have three singles players ranked no worse than Benneteaus 35th.

French captain Guy Forget could substitute dreadlocked Gael Monfils in Sunday's singles. He's 13th in the world but didn't play in Friday's opening singles against Raonic because of knee tendinitis.

Forget has described Monfils as ready to play.

Notes: Nestor and partner Max Mirnyi of Belarus are the second-ranked pair on the ATP tour ... Pospisil and Nestor had previous Davis Cup doubles wins over Israel and Ecuador ... This is Canada's first World Group tie at home since 1992, a 3-2 loss to Sweden ... Frank Dancevic, of Niagara Falls, Ont., is the fourth member of the Canadian team ... Filip Peliwo of North Vancouver, B.C., is taking in the action after his loss in the junior men's singles final of the Australian Open.

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