Madrid - France survived an early scare in the Davis Cup on Tuesday as the tournament's top seeds had to win a close deciding set in a decisive doubles rubber to beat Japan in Madrid.
Even without their injured star Kei Nishikori, Japan came close to recording a major upset on the second day at the Caja Magica before experienced French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert pulled the 10-time champions over the line.
Their 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-5 victory against Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchiyama clinched victory for France after Gael Monfils slipped to a surprise 7-5, 6-2 singles loss to world number 73 Yoshihito Nishioka.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had opened with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Uchiyama.
France, on their 100th appearance in the Davis Cup, are one of the favourites this week even though they have been highly sceptical of the controversial changes to the 119-year-old competition.
The new format this year means the tournament takes place in one venue, across a single week, with organisers, among them Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, hoping a tighter schedule will revitalise the prestigious trophy.
Former French Open semi-finalist Filip Dewulf tweeted on Monday that there were only 15 people sitting in the stands for Belgium against Colombia while women's world number 59 Alize Cornet aimed a message at Pique, in which she wrote: "Dear Gerard, I can see that you've never been to a REAL Davis Cup! And that's not it".
Better crowds were expected to watch Rafael Nadal in Spain's evening tie against Russia but the three stadiums were all far from full for Tuesday's morning session, as Argentina beat Chile 3-0 and Kazakhstan prevailed 2-1 against the Netherlands.
Kazakhstan, who will face Andy Murray and Great Britain in Group E on Wednesday, needed Mikhail Kukushkin and Alexander Bublik to win the doubles rubber 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) against Dutch pair Robin Haase and Jean-Julien Rojer.
Argentina's Diego Schwartzman had little trouble overcoming Cristian Garin of Chile 6-2, 6-2 after Guido Pella had earlier seen off Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-3.