LYON, France -- France, the country that has given the United States such items as the Statue of Liberty, Brigitte Bardot and Bordelaise sauce, looks as if it is about to take something back.
That would be the Davis Cup, which is just one more victory by the French away from getting crated up and sent to Paris for a year-long stay.
Yesterday, on a gray day in a stadium on the banks of the Rhone River, the U.S. doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso sank like a leaky boat, 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, capsized by Guy Forget and the suddenly revived Henri Leconte.
For Flach and Seguso, it was a landmark defeat, their first loss to a French team after seven victories. It could also turn out to be a pretty big loss for the United States, which trails France, 2-1, and must sweep both singles matches to retain its Davis Cup title.
It doesn't look too good. No team has come from 2-1 down to win a final since Australia defeated the United States in 1964. The last time the United States turned the trick in a final was 1902 against Britain.
Even Flach failed when he tried to make the odds appear slightly more attractive.
"Well, there's a good chance," he said, "but I wouldn't put my house on it."
All that separates the French from their first Davis Cup title in 59 years today (7:30 a.m., ESPN) is Pete Sampras, who plays the second Davis Cup match of his career. The first one was Friday, when Leconte dissected him in three sets.
This time, Sampras meets Forget, to be followed by Agassi against Leconte, which the United States hopes will be a match that means something other than an exhibition.
"Hopefully we can get to two-all, if Pete can come up big," Flach said.
Flach and Seguso came up petit. To be fair, not all of it was their own fault. Seguso was broken in the first game, a misfortune that propelled the U.S. team spiraling downward and rocketed the emotionally charged French even higher.
It was the second Davis Cup defeat in 12 matches for Flach and Seguso, who came into the final ranked as the No. 2 doubles team in the world.
"We knew then that it was going to be a long day," Flach said. "The bad start is what did it, probably cost us the match."
So did that annoying French habit of depositing unhittable balls in all areas of the court. Forget and Leconte finished with 50 winners, 23 more than Flach and Seguso, and also won 23 of 25 points at the net.
Other than that, what went wrong? Well, that isn't the right question, Flach said.
"What went right?" he said. "I don't know. I think we did all we possibly could. It wasn't us, it was them. You have to give them credit."
Flach and Seguso did not even get into the match until the third set, when Leconte and Forget started serving more like humans than ball machines.
The Americans did not have a break-point chance until the fourth game of the third set and up to then had won only nine points facing French serves.