Nice | Croatia edge past Spain to meet Switzerland in Hopman Cup final

Croatia edged Spain to top Group B and secured a place in the final of the Hopman Cup against Switzerland on Saturday at the exhibition team event that is being held at the Nice Lawn Club in southern France, where mixed teams representing 6 nations have been competing in singles and mixed doubles.

Donna Vekic claimed the first point of the day when she easily defeated Rebeka Masarova, 6-2 6-1, in the opener, and it was enough to send Croatia into the final as Spain needed to win all 3 rubbers to advance.

Vekic proved too strong for Masarova, as the World No 22 converted 4 of her 7 break point chances to secure straight sets win that effectively ended Spain’s hopes.

Playing now purely for pride, World No 1 Carlos Alcaraz levelled the tie with a 6-3 6-7(6) [10-5] win over Borna Coric, the World No 15, after which he and Masarova were pipped at the post in the mixed doubles, 1-6 6-4 [14-12], giving Croatia an unassailable 2-1 win.

The newly-crowned Wimbledon champion wowed the crowds in Nice by turning up to play on the clay after just a few days since beating 23-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic on grass in a 5-set Wimbledon thriller last Sunday,

In Alcaraz’s second straight victory here in Nice, after winning against David Goffin of Belgium on Friday, the Spaniard had only 3 aces compared to 6 for Coric on Saturday, but he saved the 2 break points he faced.

Coric saved a match point in the second set tiebreak before Alacaraz made a fresh start in the rubber’s 3rd set, breaking to emerge on top after 2 hours and 1 minute.

Carlos Alcaraz levelled the tie for Spain by beating Croatia's Borna Coric on Saturday

Both made good starts in their service games, with the Croatian staying in touch with the world’s best player, cracking down an ace down the T line in the 6th game to level the score at 3-3, before Alcaraz produced a hold to 15 for a 4-3 lead.

Finding his range on return in the 8th game, Alcaraz landed a backhand down-the-line winner to steal Coric’s serve for 5-3 and held with a service winner to wrap up the first set in some style in 30 minutes.

Coric grabbed the first game of the second with a booming serve, but then squandered 2 break chances in the next one, and Alcaraz, with great calmness brought the game home with a drop-shot winner to level the score at 1-1.

The 20-year old Spaniard fired an ace in the 4th game to lock the contest at 2-2, and created several break chances in the next, but Coric denied all 3 of them and held on with a service winner to stay ahead.

Landing another unreturned serve in the 8th game, Alcaraz held to love for 4-4 before the Croatian clinched the next one after deuce, and he served to stay in the set at 5-6, holding to take matters into a tiebreak.

Coric sprayed a forehand error at 5-5 and offered Alcaraz a match point, but the Croatian saved it and forced a miscue from the Spaniard at 7-6 to wrap up the breaker, sending the contest into the match tiebreak.

Alcaraz delivered 2 early mini-breaks for 6-2 in the breaker before Coric pulled one back, but when the Croatian netted a forehand to fall 7-4 behind and then hit a double-fault at 5-8, Alcaraz held 4 match points, and the Spaniard cracked a backhand return winner on the first to emerge at the top.

Donna Vekic landed Croatia's place in the final with an easy win over Spain's Rebeka Masarova

In the deciding mixed doubles rubber, Coric & Vekic outlasted Alcaraz & Masarova to secure a memorable 2-1 victory and take their place in the final against Switzerland, holding their nerve in a dramatic encounter to wrap up a stirring come-back win in the tight and thrilling match tiebreak.

Croatia, the 1996 champions, will aim to win their second Hopman Cup title on Sunday against Switzerland, the defending champions.

Switzerland successfully defended their title in the last edition of the mixed team tournament in 2019 for their 4th crown overall, with Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic taking them to victory over Germany in the final in Perth, Western Australia.

The relaunched championship returned to the tennis calendar this week after a 4-year absence, having lost its spot ahead of the Australian Open as a result of the short-lived ATP Cup men’s team event.

Switzerland, represented this year by Leandro Riedi and Celine Naef, topped Group A with wins over Denmark and event hosts France.

Against Denmark, Switzerland were on the back foot as Naef was beaten by Clara Tauson, 6-2 6-3, in the women’s singles match, but Riedl, ranked 152, then upset Holger Rune, the World No 6, 6-4 6-3, to level the tie, and, in the deciding mixed doubles match, Naef & Riedl teamed up to win 6-3 7-5 against Tauson & Rune.

Against France, Tauson got past Alizé Cornet, 7-6(2) 6-4, before Riedl levelled the tie by defeating Richard Gasquet, 3-6 6-3 [10-8], and then Naef & Riedi earned doubles glory by overcoming Cornet & Gasquet, 6-4 7-5.

Croatia’s other win in Group B was against Belgium, things getting off to a bad start when Elise Mertens dispatched Vekic, 6-2 6-2, before Coric levelled the tie by overcoming David Goffin, 6-3 2-6 [10-4], after which Vekic & Coric combined for a decisive victory in the mixed doubles, beating Mertens & Goffin, 7-6 3-6 [10-6].

The Hopman Cup trophy which Switzerland hopes to retain and Croatia wants to win for the second time on Sunday



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