LYON, France -- The French won the Davis Cup for the first time in 59 years, then started behaving in their normal, demure fashion, one befitting citizens of the capital of culture.
They formed a Conga line.
That was shortly after Guy Forget threw his racket and hit Yannick Noah in the foot, which was shortly before Forget stripped down to his shorts and threw his clothes into the stands.
Forget rode atop Noah's shoulders, followed by Noah being hoisted in the air, fists clenched, crying. There were enough tears to form a new tributary of the Rhone.
As the crowd sang the Marseilles, danced and applauded, all at the same time, Forget and Henri Leconte grabbed a French flag and circled the court several times.
"I don't think the Americans realize how much the Davis Cup means to the French team and the public," Forget said.
"We have the World Cup soccer, the Tour de France and the Davis Cup," he said. "In America, they have 10 different things more important than the Davis Cup."
So yesterday was a day for celebrating at the bowl-like Palais des Sports, where French national pride spilled out from everywhere and Forget, France's emotionally charged racket artist, clinched a 3-1 victory over the United States in the final of the yearlong international competition.
Forget, a spindly, balding, 26-year-old from Marseilles, defeated Pete Sampras, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and branded the 20-year-old American as a two-time loser in his Davis Cup debut.
Sampras took it hard.
"It's very disappointing," he said. "I feel like I've let down my team."
The United States failed in its defense of the Davis Cup title it won last year against Australia, 3-2, partly because captain Tom Gorman failed in his gamble that Sampras could continue his hot streak of the fall.
"I told Pete not to be too hard on himself," said Gorman, who then seemed to be a little hard on Sampras himself.
"When I look back at the selection process of selecting Pete, if we could have had 75 percent of how he had been playing, we would come through," Gorman said.
If Sampras played to less than capacity, the same cannot be said of Forget, who matched teammate Henri Leconte's knack of hitting pressure shots, which he exhibited in Friday night's three-set victory over Sampras.
The margin of victory was actually slight -- one service break in the first, third and fourth sets. On the other hand, Sampras clearly had his chances, but converted only one of 10 break-point opportunities.
Sampras held three break points in the third set, but Forget saved them all, one with a daring second-serve ace down the middle that drew grudging admiration from Sampras.
"It was a very gutsy and very big point," Sampras said. "If he had perhaps missed it, there could have been a huge momentum switch. I couldn't believe he did it."
What caused Forget to try such a risky shot?
"I decided I was going to risk everything there," Forget said. "It turned around the set. Sometimes you have to take risks, and it works. I have to credit Yannick because he convinced me it was all right to take chances. We were a great team together."
"It's a dream come true under your own eyes," Noah said. "It's very difficult for me to realize what's happening."
Leconte, who wept uncontrollably, stopped long enough to kiss the Davis Cup for the first time.