LYON, France -- For the Americans, it was only a loss. For the French, it was more than a victory.
With Guy Forget's four-set defeat of Pete Sampras yesterday, France took the Davis Cup for the first time since 1932, setting off an outburst of chanting, flag-waving, bleu-blanc-et-rouge delirium.
By the time Forget struck the forehand that won it, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, the outcome of this best-of-five final had come to seem inevitable. But when the match began Friday, it had seemed anything but.
Though perhaps not quite a shock or an American humiliation, the result was a huge upset by any standard.
"The Americans were so confident [before the match], smiling all the time, teasing us right to the limit," French captain Yannick Noah said.
"I loved the idea that they didn't take us seriously. I loved that they thought French people choke under pressure."
U.S. captain Tom Gorman is certain to be second-guessed in the days ahead on his decision to use Sampras, a 20-year-old who never before had experienced the us-against-them, jingoistic pressure of Davis Cup tennis, home or away. Sampras lost both his singles matches, contributing mightily to the U.S. defeat.
But yesterday, Gorman -- who last year led the United States to its first cup victory since 1982 -- would not admit any second thoughts on Sampras or other players he passed over, including Jim Courier, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, and John McEnroe, one of the more successful players in cup history. Instead, he chose to focus on how well the French had played.
"What we didn't know about was Leconte," Gorman said, "and he's the man of the time as far as I'm concerned. At first, we didn't expect him to play at all, and based on his record and his fitness, we certainly didn't expect him to play so well."
For the record, the official score of the competition was France 3, the United States 1. The final singles match between Leconte and Andre Agassi was canceled by mutual consent.
In the moment of victory, Forget, a man not known for public displays of emotion, hurled his racket into the air, put his hands of his face and fell backward in ecstasy. Seconds later, he was lifted into the air as the French team surged onto the court.
When Forget managed to break free from the group clench, he began throwing articles of clothing -- his wristbands, then his shirt -- into the crowd.
Then the French players did a victory lap around the Palais des Sports. When the crowd chanted, "Yan-nick, Yan-nick," the team posed for Noah's video camera. Then Noah turned the camera onto the stands, and 8,300 screaming Frenchmen posed for him.
Henri Leconte, whose surprisingly brilliant play in singles and doubles Friday and Saturday proved decisive, did one lap carrying a huge French flag. Then Forget joined him for lap two. And on and on it went.
"I have dreamed of this moment all my life," Noah told the crowd when, at long last, the cup was actually presented. While Noah talked, Leconte wept uncontrollably.
The Forget-Sampras encounter yesterday turned on a number of key moments, including a serve that is certain to earn a place of honor in Davis Cup lore.
Forget, who served magnificently from start to finish, took the first set -- a long, grueling affair -- 8-6. It turned on an ace by Forget and ended the way a number of key points did, with an unforced error by Sampras.
In set two, Sampras broke Forget in the second game and rolled to a relatively easy but still nervous victory. The young American looked more comfortable with the super-charged, wildly partisan atmosphere than he had in his straight-set loss to Leconte on Friday, but he hardly seemed at ease.
Both players held service in set three until Sampras served in the fourth game. With the score tied at 15, Sampras ran Forget deep into a corner. Forget retrieved the ball as he ran off the court, leaving Sampras with a short, easy forehand into a wide-open court. He hit it into the net. Forget won the next two points to clinch the service break.
Sampras had his chance to recover in the ninth game, with Forget serving for the set at 5-3. The American jumped to a 15-40 lead. On the second of the two game points, Forget delivered the "serve" -- a blistering second-service ace that hit right on the center line.
"It was a little daring, and a little lucky," Forget said, adding that he had taken the risk in an attempt to relieve his tension. "It turned around the set. Sometimes, you have to take a risk, and sometimes it works."
Sampras said: "I couldn't believe he did it. It was a very gutsy and very big point. If he missed it, there would have been a huge momentum swing. Maybe then I squeak out the set."
But even then, that game was not over. Twice Sampras won the advantage, and twice he lost it. Finally, Forget, given one chance too many, won the set with two consecutive aces, two of his 17 on the day.
In the fourth set, after Forget had broken Sampras at 2-2, Sampras had the chance to even things in the next game. He went ahead by 30-40 on a disputed call, then got another break when an ace by Forget was wiped out by the referee because one of the French fanatics whistled, loudly, while the ball was in flight.
Given this chance to take the game, Sampras made an unforced backhand error into the next.
Sampras even had a 15-40 lead in the last game, with Forget serving for the cup. But this time, it was a case of Forget winning the points rather than Sampras losing them. The Frenchman closed out the match in style with an ace, a passing backhand winner, another ace and the cup-winning forehand.