CROATIA LEADS U.S.
AFTER DAVIS CUP SEMIFINAL DAY 1
Pat Mitsch | September 14, 2018
The Croatian ‘Dream Team’ proved to be that in reality on Friday, living up to its captain’s praise by taking a 2-0 lead over the U.S. in the Davis Cup semifinals with straight-sets victories from world No. 6 Marin Cilic and No. 18 Borna Coric on a temporary red clay court in Zadar.
Coric led off with a 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 win over No. 31 Steve Johnson, then the former US Open champion Cilic defeated Frances Tiafoe, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6, in the 20-year old American’s Davis Cup debut. The wins give Croatia a lead the U.S. has come back from only once in 41 tries, but an 0-2 lead is precisely what Croatia came back from to win in the last meeting between these two countries, in the 2016 quarterfinals.
“It’s definitely what we were hoping for, to have 2-0 on a first day, especially playing against U.S.,” said Cilic.
“Both me and Borna played great matches today. Very solid, both of us started matches really good in the beginning, and luckily we won both in three sets, didn’t use too much energy, but still. We have to keep our head down, work for the third point. I feel that even before the tie has started, even when Jack was in the combinations, I feel that the U.S. had very strong positions in doubles and definitely they still do. We have to just keep going and hopefully, even tomorrow, or if it happens on Sunday, to get a third point.”
The 21-year old Coric played a poised match against Johnson, who became the top-ranked singles player nominated for the U.S. this weekend after Jack Sock was forced to sit out with a hip injury. Coric made 34 of 35 second serves and won 66 percent of his second-serve points, as compared to Johnson’s 32-percent clip.
“He’s a phenomenal tennis player, and he’s very comfortable on the clay,” said Johnson, who had beaten Coric in their only previous meeting, at the 2017 French Open. “It’s hard to take a lot of stock from a match from a year ago. For both of us, we try and grow as tennis players every day, so I thought he played well today. I think if I could replay the second-set tiebreak, I’d like to have a couple of those forehands back. Other than that, I thought he played great. I left it out there, just came up a little short.”
In the second match, the 2014 US Open champion was too much for the Davis Cup rookie Tiafoe, fighting off second- and third-set surges from the Maryland native to the tune of a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(5) victory.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Tiafoe said. “Obviously it’s what I wanted to do my whole career, get a chance to play for America. I felt extremely comfortable out there. I played a quality player today. Regardless of playing at home or away, it was going to be tough. But I put myself in the position to extend the match and didn’t, but I’m definitely going to remember this one.”
“He showed that he’s capable of playing great tennis,” Cilic said. “He was serving really good, hitting also from the back very, very good. The third set was complete opposite from the first set and a half.”
The U.S. will now rely on world doubles No.1 Mike Bryan and No. 54 Ryan Harrison to extend the tie in Saturday’s doubles match. Though it’s a first-time pairing, the two Americans have substantial individual doubles success on which to rely. Bryan is an 18-time Grand Slam doubles champion and the U.S. Davis Cup team’s all-time winningest doubles player, at 26-5, while Harrison won the 2017 French Open doubles title and helped clinch both of the U.S.’s first-round and quarterfinal victories this year.
They’re paired against Croatian Davis Cup veteran Ivan Dodig and world doubles No. 4 Mate Pavic. Dodig and Pavic are 12-6 together all-time but have only played one Davis Cup doubles match together, a four-set loss to Andy Murray and Colin Fleming in 2013. Should Krajan decide to substitute a player or players for Saturday, which each captain can do up to one hour before the match, Dodig and Cilic are 5-2 together in Davis Cup doubles and are the pair that sparked Croatia’s comeback win over the U.S. in 2016.
“Doubles is always critical in Davis Cup,” Courier said. “It’s always a key match, and sometimes … the last time we were playing Croatia, we were trying to put them away, and it turned the tide for them. We’re hoping we’re going to generate that kind of momentum for the American squad tomorrow. Obviously it is do-or-die. Every match will be do-or-die from here on in for us, so we know what the stakes are, but that’s what we came here for. We came here to battle. We came here to fight for every point, and we look forward to tomorrow."