Between them Spain and Croatia have won the Davis Cup eight times with the hosts claiming it on six occasions but this year, they will no longer be in contention following their 2-0 defeat to the visiting Croats.
It’s such a great privilege and honor to bring another point for the Team Croatia and seal the win against the always strong Spanish team Marin Cilic
Playing without the services of the world’s top two players, Carlos Alcaraz and Rafa Nadal, both having absented themselves from selection because of injuries, the quarter-final result was still a bit of a surprise as the team still consisted of higher ranked players.
It left the Spanish team captain, Sergi Brugera, a bit stunned as he had felt prior to the tie, that in Pablo Carreno Busta and Roberto Bautista Agut, he had two very capable players to fill the void.
“I think luck had a little bit of influence, and Cilic had a little bit more today,” he pointed out as he was forced to accept his team’s early exit from the competition.
But it was Marin Cilic, an experienced Davis Cup player, who claimed the second singles point to give Croatia an unassailable lead, who highlighted the difference Nadal’s absence had made.
“It would be much different. Rafa has been during all his career a leader of the team. He’s one of the best Davis Cup players ever,” the 34-year-old Cilic pointed out, adding: “Carlos, fantastic season for him. Such a pity for him to get injured.”
Whether it was luck or experience, Cilic, the world No.17 and former US Open champion, fought back from a set down to defeat 13th-ranked Carreno Busta 5-7 6-3 7-6(5) after Borna Coric had given Croatia, Davis Cup champions in 2005 and 2018, a perfect start by defeating Bautista Agut 6-4 7-6(4).
Cilic, who made his Davis Cup debut back in 2006, dropped the first set, gave up a break in the decider and was 1-4 down in the tiebreak before triumphing after three hours and 13 minutes on court.
He hit 20 aces which were nearly cancelled out by the 15 double faults he also delivered but he kept his concentration to stun the 10,000-strong home crowd at the Palacio de Deportes in Malaga who couldn’t lift their team who last won the title in 2019.
“It was incredible battle,” said Cilic who had led Croatia to the 2021 final where they lost to Russia who have been banned from international team competition following Putin’s illegal invasion of The Ukraine.
“It’s such a great privilege and honor to bring another point for the Team Croatia and seal the win against the always strong Spanish team,” he added.
As mentioned, Coric the world No.26, had got the ball rolling earlier firing 14 aces past his opponent ranked five places higher.
Bautista Agut had been on a seven-match winning streak in Davis Cup appearances, a run stretching back to 2019.
“I just think in general I was playing very smart. When I needed to attack, I did attack. When I needed to make a defence, I was defensive,” Coric said in explaining his game plan.
“I also mixed up the rhythm, as well, which is very important against him. I was just very pleased with my game, to be honest.”
He also added: “I like the big stage, I like the big crowd, it gives me an extra motivation.”
The doubles rubber was cancelled.
Play was briefly interrupted by two environmental protesters who dashed onto the court and attempted to tie themselves to the net. Quick action by the security staff following a brief tussle, led to their ejection from the ground.
Croatia will now face Australia in the first semi-finals set for Friday while the remaining two quarter-finals will be played out on Thursday – USA vs Italy and Germany vs Canada with the winners set to meet on Saturday.