By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Richard Gasquet justified France captain Arnaud Clement's faith with a crushing defeat of Czech Tomas Berdych as the hosts made a flying start in their bid to reach the Davis Cup final for the first time since 2010 on Friday.
Gasquet, preferred to Gael Monfils for the second singles berth, played some sublime tennis to subdue the world number six 6-3 6-2 6-3 at a sun-baked Roland Garros before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga thrashed Lukas Rosol 6-2 6-2 6-3 to give Les Bleus a commanding 2-0 semi-final lead against the champions.
The winner of the tie will meet either Switzerland or Italy in the final.
Berdych, who was playing his U.S. Open quarter-final eight days ago when Gasquet, ranked 21st in the world, was starting his clay court training at Roland Garros, was never in contention against the inspired Gasquet.
In-form Monfils also reached the U.S. Open quarter-finals last week after crushing Gasquet in the third round.
"I knew quite early, on Monday or Tuesday, that I would be playing. Gael was quite tired," Gasquet told a news conference.
"I played a solid match. It was important to take the first set. I broke at the right time in all three sets.
"I knew I had the game to unsettle him on clay."
In front of an almost sell-out crowd on court Philippe Chatrier, Gasquet opened up a 3-1 lead as Berdych failed to deal with the Frenchman's single-handed backhand assault.
Berdych appeared lacking in energy as he made a string of unforced forehand errors that allowed Gasquet to easily bag the opening set with a stunning backhand winner down the line.
Chest out and in complete control, Gasquet raced to a 3-0 lead in the second, only for Berdych to pull a break back and threaten a comeback.
The home favorite, cheered by a raucous crowd waving French flags, played tough and won the remaining three games.
Gasquet broke early in the third set and although Berdych offered more resistance there was to be no meltdown for the Frenchman.
He sealed the match on his second match point when Berdych double-faulted.
"My body was not ready for that," Berdych told a news conference.
"I would have needed more time to prepare. I tried my best but it was not enough. But the tie is not over yet."
Not over perhaps, but the Czechs' hopes of winning the trophy for a third consecutive year are hanging by a thread going into Saturday's doubles rubber.
Rosol, who won the Winston Salem tournament last month and has enjoyed a solid year, could not compete with Tsonga who was injured the last time France reached the final.
The Frenchman, ranked 12th, bombarded his opponent with his trademark forehand winners to seal a straightforward win.
"Rosol was never there because of Jo's level," Clement told a courtside interviewer.
Despite staring defeat in the face, Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil will hope that the doubles pairing of Radek Stepanek and Jiri Vesely can keep the tie alive.
"It's not over even if it's tough to be 2-0 down," he said.
Clement now faces a puzzle to pick the players who will play the doubles on Saturday.
Monfils is scheduled to play with Julien Benneteau but Tsonga and Gasquet's performances could prompt the French captain to change his mind.
"Jo and Richard playing together tomorrow is definitely a possibility. We will discuss it tonight," said Clement.
So far, his choices have been inspired.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by martyn herman)