Zadar: First it was the World Cup football final. Now it’s the Davis Cup.
Croatia will meet France again to decide tennis’ premier team event.
After eight hours of tennis on Sunday, Borna Coric ended a sustained comeback bid from the United States by rallying from two sets to one down to beat Frances Tiafoe 6-7, 6-1, 6-7, 6-1, 6-3 in the fifth and decisive match of a topsy-turvy semi-final.
“This is the most special moment of my whole life — by far,” Coric said. “If there were not (fan support) I would lose in the fourth set for sure, because my head was deep in the water.”
Earlier, substitute Sam Querrey had rallied to keep the US alive.
Querrey, who was playing in place of Steve Johnson, beat sixth-ranked Marin Cilic 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 to even the best-of-five series at 2-2.
Defending champions France will host the November 23-25 final.
While France won the World Cup football final 4-2 in Russia this year, just reaching the match was a huge accomplishment for a small nation like Croatia.
“It was a great success not just for Croatian football but for all Croatian sports,” Croatia Davis Cup captain Zeljko Krajan said.
“We got used to the Croatia football team winning in extra-time and what we did here was not one, not two but 10 extra times,” Krajan said, referring to how the football team won their first three knockout matches after they had all gone to extra-time.
It was a memorable first career meeting between the 40th-ranked Tiafoe — who was making his Davis Cup debut — and the 18th-ranked Coric, both of whom are considered future stars of the game.
“To have a rookie perform the way that Frances did in the fifth match is very impressive,” US captain Jim Courier said. “What Sam did, turning his match around, was kind of mind-boggling. So there’s a lot to process from today. I’m still not sure I’m there. We’re sort of taking it all in right now, because it’s been minute by minute today.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. They laid it all out there, fought hard, played as well as they could,” Courier added. “We had one great win and one great fight today.”
Coric took an early break in the fifth set then broke again to conclude a match that lasted more than four hours.
When Tiafoe’s backhand landed in the net on Coric’s first match point, Coric’s teammates rushed out onto the clay court and swarmed around him, jumping up and down in celebration.
Coric broke free briefly to go over and shake Tiafoe’s hand once the American had already sat in his chair. The celebrations continued as the Croatia team danced around Coric in a circle.
While Coric proved more consistent in the end, Tiafoe’s ability to run down shot after shot dragged many points on longer than expected.
“I had a couple of dips — in the second and the fourth. That can happen but it is what it is,” Tiafoe said. “I’m young and I’m going to learn from that. In the fifth, it could have gone either way. He raised his level. I raised my level. Hats off.”
Cilic and Coric won the opening two singles matches Friday in straight sets but Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison began an American comeback with a doubles victory Saturday that was decided in a fifth-set tiebreaker over nearly five hours.
Still, we have Croatia — who won their only title in 2005 — going to their second final in three years.
Cilic wasted a 6-1 lead in the second-set tiebreaker then completely fell apart with a series of errors under pressure from the big-serving Querrey.
Querrey had never beaten Cilic in six previous meetings and, for a player whose ranking has fallen from 11th to No. 61 this year, it was an exceptional result.
“It’s one of the best matches of my career. That’s for sure,” Querrey said. “Considering my year, it’s been tough lately so this is a huge boost.”
Chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued a code violation to Croatia after Cilic slammed his racket to the clay and mangled the frame late in the third set.
Since it was the first violation of the match, it was only a warning. No points were deducted and Cilic did not exchange any words with Ramos.
Ramos was also the umpire who gave Serena Williams three code violations in her straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka during last weekend’s US Open final. The American great argued she wasn’t being treated the same as some male players.
Croatia extended their perfect record over the US to 5-0.