On Wednesday, Marin Cilic led Croatia to the Davis Cup semi-finals, knocking out the six-time champion Spain, who was missed by Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal, the two best players in the world.
World number 17 Cilic, the former US Open champion, battled back to defeat 13th seed Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) as Croatia booked their semi-final match against Australia.
Earlier Wednesday, Borna Coric had put the 2005 and 2018 champions on their way, defeating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).
Cilic, 34, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2006, dropped the first set, pulled back a break in the deciding set, and was 1/4 down in the tiebreak before winning three hours and 13 minutes later on the court.
His 20 aces helped mitigate the damage caused by 15 double faults as he shocked second-placed Croatia in the 2021 final in front of 10,000 spectators at the Palacio de Deportes.
“It was an incredible fight,” said Cilic.
However, he admitted that the absence of Alcaraz, the US Open champion, and 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, played into the hands of Croatia, who had lost all three of their previous Davis Cup encounters with Spain.
“It would be a lot different. Throughout his career Rafa has been captain of the team. He is one of the best Davis Cup players ever.
“Carlos, a great season for him. Too bad he got injured.”
Spain captain Sergi Bruguera lamented his team’s exit.
“I think luck had a little bit of an effect, and Cilic had a bit more today,” he insisted.
World number 26 Coric fired 14 aces past the 21st seed he had already beaten on his way to the Cincinnati Masters title this summer.
Bautista Agut was on a seven-match winning streak in the Davis Cup, a streak that extends into 2019.
“I think in general I was playing very smart. When I needed to attack, I attacked. When I needed to defend, I was on the defensive,” Koric said.
“I also mixed up the tempo, which is very important against him. To be honest, I was very happy with my game.”
Play was briefly interrupted when two environmental protesters rushed onto the field and tried to net themselves before being wrestled to the ground and being pushed out of the ring by security personnel.
The couple were members of the “Futuro Vegetal” group calling for “the adoption of a vegan, vegetable-based diet.”
“We have interrupted the Davis Cup to demand urgent changes to the food system,” the organization explained on its Twitter account.
In Thursday’s remaining quarter-finals, the 32-time Davis Cup champions, the United States, face Italy, while Germany faces Canada.
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