With its resilient doubles team buoyed by the home crowd, France closed in on a second straight Davis Cup title.

Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro gave the French a 2-1 lead against Russia in the best-of-five final today, beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that lasted more than 31/2 hours.

France can claim its 10th Davis Cup title if Sebastien Grosjean defeats Safin in Sunday's first singles match.

"It's not over yet," Escude said. "The main goal is to win Sunday evening."

Still, a trend runs heavily in France's favor: The team winning the doubles has won the last 24 Davis Cup finals.

France last won back-to-back Davis Cup titles in 1932. Russia has never won the trophy and is playing in its third final.

"We gave 150 percent of what we were able to give today," Santoro said. "It was tough because they were hitting very hard and very fast."

French captain Guy Forget is expected to choose between Santoro and Davis Cup newcomer Paul-Henri Mathieu for Sunday's final match against Kafelnikov. Mathieu lost to Safin in four sets on Friday.

Unlike the French, the Russians are a two-man operation in Kafelnikov and Safin.

Escude and Santoro won the doubles title at the Paris Masters in November but had little experience playing together before that tournament.

"The matches are not over," said Kafelnikov, who has said he will retire if Russia wins. "There is always another day."

After losing the first set, the Russians turned the match around with powerful groundstrokes and serves. Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin rose from his seat to applaud a shot by Kafelnikov.

Escude fell on his back near the end of the third set, which the Russians won, and left the court to be examined by a doctor. He returned and the French lost the first two games of the next set.

Santoro and Escude were cheered on by a partisan crowd of about 15,000. The crowd sang the "Marseillaise," the French national anthem, after France evened the match at two sets apiece.