Although it was legitimately decried and amputated of part of its original emotional substance, the Davis Cup still retains, sometimes, some ounce of magic, a small scent of sweet madness in the back of the nose. On Wednesday, at the Palacio de Deportes in Malaga, the end of the second single between Marin Cilic and Pablo Carreño Busta – and between Croatia and Spain – was no longer rational (5-7, 6-3, 7-6 ).
Dying in the middle of the third set and led 4-2, the Spaniard got up again, then went two points from the match in “regulation time”, before leading 4-1 in the tie-break. Marin Cilic, he, in delicacy with his service throughout (20 aces and 15 double faults) believed to win, then to die with this simple blow. But he struggled, slammed two aces in the decisive game, put down a small passing pass at the end of the race and sent Croatia, finally, in the semi-finals, at the end of an insane match of 3 hours and 16 minutes which sealed the fate of this quarter-final (2-0) and ousted Spain from the competition.
The Roja of Sergi Bruguera, host country, therefore left the Davis Cup in the quarter-finals, the same day when the other Roja, the one with Luis Enrique’s crampons, left regaled in front of Costa Rica in Qatar (7-0). Two places, two atmospheres. But we must believe that the absences of the two Spanish stars, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, weighed too heavily in this story.
Croatia therefore won 2-0 because, before the success of Marin Cilic in the shock of the numbers one, Borna Coric had placed the selection of Vedran Martic in the best possible conditions, doing the job properly against Roberto Bautista Agut. Great returning in recent months, the 26th in the world had undermined the 21st in two sets (6-4, 7-6 ) in just under 2 hours of play. Impeccable on his face-off (12 aces and 83% of points behind his first ball), the winner of the Cincinnati Masters 1000 brilliantly confirmed his return to the forefront, after more a year without playing, spent treating a recalcitrant shoulder between March 2021 and March 2022.
Still Cilic had to put the lid on. On a wire, not always very fair in his strikes, the winner of the US Open 2014 pitched and was on the verge of getting lost, before this end of the monumental tie-break, which left Spain and Pablo Carreño Busta offside on their land.
Croatia, finalist of the last edition (defeated by Russia), now stands on the road to Australia in the semi-finals. And she also remembers that in this team configuration, carried by Cilic and Coric in singles, she had won in 2018, in Lille against France, the last Davis Cup in the original version.