Davis Cup final: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga handed surprise start against Croatia

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (L) shakes hands with Marin Cilic during the draw on the eve of the Davis Cup tennis final between France and Croatia. PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

France captain Yannick Noah sprang a surprise at Thursday's Davis Cup final draw ceremony when he named Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as his singles players for the opening day's action in Lille.

Already without the likes of Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils for the final against Croatia, Noah decided to leave out Lucas Pouille, the top-ranked player in his team.

World No.40 Chardy will open the tie on Friday against Croatia's Borna Coric with Tsonga then taking on Marin Cilic. Cilic and Coric are ranked seventh and 12th respectively.

Tsonga, 259th in the ATP rankings, missed seven months of the year because of knee surgery and has played only 11 singles matches this year on the Tour. Tsonga, who lost in the first round in his most recent tournaments, in Vienna and Paris, also had his practice cut on Tuesday due to a minor shoulder injury.

Leaving out the 32nd-ranked Pouille is a potential gamble although the 33-year-old Tsonga, a former world No.5, has a fine pedigree and a big-match character. He also played in last year's final when France beat Belgium.

Saturday's doubles will see home pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues-Herbert take on Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig.

Sunday's reverse singles would see Tsonga face Coric and Chardy take on Cilic, although the captains are allowed to change their teams.

France are the defending champions and are trying to win the title for the 11th time, while Croatia are seeking to repeat their triumph of 2005 when they won the cup in Slovakia.

Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan said Noah's selections had not taken him by surprise.

"I know he can sometimes take a joker out of his pocket," Krajan said. "It does not always work according to the ranking.

"I thought Chardy could be his joker this weekend. I hope it will not be as successful as usual in the Davis Cup."

The final, being played on clay inside the 28,000-seater Stade Pierre Mauroy, is the last one before the century-old competition is revamped next year.