By Julien Pretot
LILLE, France, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Lucas Pouille had never lost to David Goffin before Friday but the Frenchman admitted after a straight-sets defeat in the Davis Cup final that the Belgian was no longer the same player.
Goffin played a near-perfect match to win 7-5 6-3 6-1 and earn visitors Belgium a 1-0 lead after holding off world number 18 Pouille in the opening set.
Goffin rose to seventh in the world rankings after finishing runner-up at the ATP Tour finals, notably beating 19-time grand slam champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals.
Pouille had won their only three meetings in 2016 but Friday's encounter was very different as the Frenchman could not pierce his opponent's armour.
"He is definitely a different, better player, that's why he's had the end of season that he's had," Pouille, who often trains with Goffin and is among the Belgian's best friends, told a news conference.
"He is now among the best players in the world, his level has been incredible since his Davis Cup semi-final (in September).
"His level is getting higher and higher and he proved that today. He did everything perfectly. He's playing the best tennis of his life."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was taking on Steve Darcis in Friday's second singles, hoping to put France level ahead of Saturday's doubles.
France won their last title in 2011 while Belgium have yet to lift the trophy. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neil Robinson)