U.S. FACES "DREAM TEAM"
IN DAVIS CUP SEMIFINAL
Pat Mitsch | September 12, 2018
In a dream setting against a “Dream Team,” a new-look U.S. Davis Cup squad comes to Croatia hoping to play the alarm clock.
The Americans touched down in Zadar, Croatia, this week, and are preparing for a Davis Cup World Group semifinal tie vs. the Croatians on an outdoor red clay court just miles off the picturesque Dalmatian Coast.
The backdrop suits the host nation here, as seventh-year Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan brings what he called a Croatian “Dream Team” to Zadar, led by No. 6 Marin Cilic and No. 18 Borna Coric and featuring world doubles No. 4 Mate Pavic, playing in his first Davis Cup tie since 2014, doubles veteran Ivan Dodig and doubles No. 39 Franko Skugor.
“We have a really good team,” Krajan said in Wednesday’s captains’ pre-draw press conferences. “We respect the situation we are in. ADVERTISEMENT The semifinals are the four best teams of the year, so we respect everybody, and it’s very great teams that's left.
“But surely we have all the best players we will have this weekend, which is good for us. With Mate [Pavic] coming back, we would call it our ‘Dream Team,’ for sure. I think we are looking pretty good ahead of the weekend.”
U.S. Captain Jim Courier’s squad is a mix of old and new, though two notable pieces are missing this time. World No. 30 Steve Johnson, No. 40 Frances Tiafoe (pictured above), No. 51 Ryan Harrison, No. 61 Sam Querrey and world doubles No. 1 Mike Bryan will represent the U.S. this weekend in its first semifinal appearance since 2012.
Harrison, who has featured prominently for the U.S. alongside Querrey and Johnson in recent ties, replaces world singles No. 17 and doubles No. 2 Jack Sock, who was nominated to the U.S. team for this tie but now has to sit out after suffering a hip injury during his and Bryan’s run to the US Open doubles title.
“Jack and I spoke after the doubles final, and Ryan was standing by,” Courier said. “He knew that he would be the next player that would come if there were any injuries, which is always a risk in Davis Cup, so it was handled pretty quickly.
“It's a factor in Davis Cup all the time, having to be prepared for these last-minute changes. It's something that every Davis Cup captain and every Davis Cup team has to manage, because as you know injuries are a part of this game. It's not something we look forward to, but it's certainly something we're accustomed to.”
Similarly, John Isner, America’s top-ranked man who helped lead the U.S. to first-round and quarterfinal victories, is unavailable as he awaits the birth of his first child.
That leaves the keys in the hands of veterans Querrey, Johnson and Harrison, along with a Davis Cup rookie in the 20-year old Tiafoe and the 40-year old Bryan, who is coming out of a two-year Davis Cup retirement to play in his 32nd tie for the U.S.
“We're feeling good. We're eager to get on the playing field here,” Courier said on Wednesday. “It's a wonderful set up here in Zadar. Beautiful city. The center court's really nice. The facilities are good, so the guys are in good spirits and rested and ready to go.”
The American side hopes that portends to a better outcome than when they last met Croatia, in the 2016 quarterfinals. After Isner and Sock put the U.S. up, 2-0, on Day 1, with victories over Coric and Cilic respectively, the Croatians paired Cilic with Dodig for doubles and mounted a monumental comeback to win, 3-2 – then just the fourth time in 161 ties the U.S. had lost a tie it led 2-0.
That was the last time these two countries met in Davis Cup, and it was after that weekend that Bob and Mike Bryan retired from the team competition, the retirement Mike is coming out of this week. The U.S. is 0-4 vs. Croatia, the only country it has never beaten.
“It's tough to say [why the U.S. hasn’t beaten Croatia],” Krajan said. “I just hope that it continues, playing against States, and I guess it's sooner or later defeat is going to come. I hope it's not going to come this time, but surely there's something special in the air that suits our game from the U.S. players.”
“We're not here to play in the past. We're here to compete for the present,” Courier said. “If the past was prolonged, we may as well hand the United States the Davis Cup trophy. We know we have to earn it. Croatia will feel the same way. They know they can't rely on the past to help them this weekend. Tennis balls here have no idea what happened in the past. We're here to compete hard from first ball to last ball, and we'll try to take care of business here in 2018.”