The United States' bench rose in disbelief, Guy Forget clapped one hand against his racket in quiet tribute and Yannick Noah's dreadlocks trembled slightly.
Jared Palmer elicited this response Saturday with a running backhand volley that split Forget and partner Olivier Delaitre to save a break point for the United States in the third set of a first-round Davis Cup doubles match against France at the Bayfront Center Arena.
The angled shot swung the momentum in favor of Palmer and his partner, Richey Reneberg, and the U.S. doubles team held serve and rode that wave of confidence to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, giving the Americans a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five-match World Group competition. The United States needs to win one of the two singles matches today to advance to the second round.
Todd Martin, who lost to Cedric Pioline on Friday, plays Forget, then Jim Courier will follow against Pioline.
But no one is relaxing yet.
"I'll have peace of mind when we get to three (victories)," U.S. captain Tom Gullikson said.
Palmer's third-set shot brought them closer to that goal.
"It's just a case where I dug it out and just squeaked through that game," Palmer said. "I think it was more destructive to them than it was a boost for us."
After the shot, Palmer served for the game three times before Reneberg put away a forehand volley to give the United States a 2-1 lead. With added confidence, the Americans then broke Delaitre in the next game after Palmer's forehand return of serve split the French players and landed on the baseline.
France had an opportunity to break back in the next game, but Forget hit an easy overhead into the net on break point and returned Reneberg's serve long on the next point to give the U.S. team the advantage. Forget threw his racket down in disgust, then watched as Delaitre returned a serve long and the United States took a 4-1 lead.
"That was a huge point," Reneberg said, "because, I mean, obviously once you get the break, it is nice to consolidate it, go up 4-1, kind of keep the pressure on them."
Both teams held serve and Palmer volleyed a backhand to the baseline to win the set.
In the fourth set, the United States won a break point for a 4-3 lead after Delaitre double faulted.
The Frenchman jokingly blamed the error on "the sun and the wind"--the match was played indoors--before admitting, "Maybe the chance was already gone."
Three games later, Palmer's backhand volley bounced off Delaitre and gave the United States the doubles victory before an announced crowd of 4,052.
For Reneberg and Palmer, the victory showed that their Australian Open doubles championship last month was no fluke.
"I think they have the potential to be an excellent team," Gullikson said.
Today, however, Gullikson's attention will return to singles. The United States is favored, but last September the Americans blew a 2-0 lead to Sweden in the 1994 Davis Cup semifinals. The United States has blown a 2-1 lead eight times in Davis Cup history; France has come back from a 2-1 deficit to win six times.
What's more, if anyone knows how to conjure up a Davis Cup victory out of air, it is the charismatic Noah, who led France to the 1991 Davis Cup title.
"You don't give up," Noah, the French captain, said softly. "We have to still believe."