Team USA comeback
falls just short in Croatia
Pat Mitsch | September 16, 2018
The current Davis Cup format may be in its final year, but it will surely live on in U.S. Davis Cup lore, if only in part because of the inspired efforts Sam Querrey and Frances Tiafoe put forth on Sunday in Croatia.
A resilient Borna Coric ultimately proved too much for the Davis Cup rookie Tiafoe to overcome, winning a topsy-turvy fifth and decisive match in this semifinal tie, 6-7, 6-1, 6-7, 6-1, 6-3, as the sun set on the Sportski Centar Visnjik’s red clay court in Zadar. The match lasted four hours and six minutes, and was the culmination of an eight-hour day of tennis that began when Querrey took the court against world No. 6 Marin Cilic at 11 a.m., needing to win.
Down 2-1 and still facing elimination, but carrying the momentum of Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison’s fifth-set-tiebreak doubles victory on Saturday, U.S. ADVERTISEMENT captain Jim Courier subbed in Querrey for Steve Johnson. Querrey had won live singles matches in each of the United States' first-round and quarterfinal victories this year, but was 0-6 all-time against Cilic.
Cilic won the first set in a tiebreak and led Querrey, 6-1, in a second-set tiebreak. But Querrey won the next seven points in a row to take the second set and rode that momentum through the third and fourth sets. When the dust settled, Querrey emerged with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Cilic committed 72 unforced errors compared to Querrey’s 57, and Querrey converted five of his nine break point chances. It was Querrey’s third live Davis Cup singles win of 2018 and just his second win in five tries in a live match on a Davis Cup Sunday.
“What Sam did, turning his match around, was kind of mind-boggling,” said Courier. “So there’s a lot to process from today. I’m still not sure I’m there.”
With the tie leveled at two, Tiafoe took the court to face not only the world No. 18 in front of an inspired home crowd, but also decades of history. The only time the U.S. had won from 0-2 down in Davis Cup was in 1936, and only two U.S. Davis Cup rookies have won fifth and decisive matches since America began playing in this competition in 1900 – Chris Woodruff, over Zimbabwe’s Wayne Black in the 2000 World Group First Round, and Raymond Little, in 1906.
Despite moments of brilliance and sets of resiliency – Tiafoe came from 5-1 down in the third set to come back and win, 7-6 – Coric ultimately forced the 20-year old Maryland native into 27 errors and nearly collapsed to the court after match point, which came at 7:02 p.m., to raucous cheers from the home crowd in the 8,000-seat stands.
“They won the match,” Coric said. “Not with me – I was playing – but if they are not them, I would lose in four sets for sure, because my head was… I don’t know how you say it, maybe ‘deep in the water,’ if you know what I mean.”
“I thought it was a pretty high level,” said Tiafoe. “I would say I had a couple dips at some times. I mean, for the second and fourth [sets], that can’t happen. It is what it is, tennis. I’m young, I’m going to learn from that. But in the fifth it could have gone either way. He raised his level. I raised my level. He was too good in the end. Hats off.”
“I told Frances this already,” said Courier. “There are very few matches that players will ever play in their careers that have more pressure than that. Grand Slam final, maybe, is the only thing that comes close to touching that. That’s going to be a boost for Frances long-term. He knows he can live in that environment.”
Croatia will now face France in the 2018 Davis Cup final, Nov. 23-25, the last under this current World Group format. The U.S., as a semifinalist, automatically qualifies for the new-format 2019 Davis Cup championship rounds, next November.
“One of the benefits, even though we lost today, is we’ve qualified for the championships for next year, so that gives us a lot to think about and prepare for and obviously schedule in advance for, which gives guys real opportunity,” Courier said of the 2019 event. “This group of players has never played in a final, and it will be very tangible to be at this new format and have the quick, shoot-out format and have best-of-three sets, two out of three matches. I think it’ll be very exciting, I don’t think we’ll have a hard time getting the guys fired up for it.”