After winning the crucial doubles in the 2016 Davis Cup final on Saturday, Croatia led Argentina 2-1 with Sunday’s two reverse singles remaining. In the first match, when Marin Cilic took a 2 sets lead over Juan Martin del Potro, the Croats were at Argentina’s throats. One more set and the Davis Cup was Croatia’s. Beside a 2-set deficit, del Potro also faced a roaring stadium and celebrations in some corners had already begun. However, they were not ready for what happened next. Del Potro summoned all his reserves and took the third set. His bounce-back momentum continued as he played far superior tennis and won the five-setter in nearly 5 hours. However at 2-2, Croatia still looked favorites, because they had the big-serving Ivo Karlovic playing against Federico Delbonis, whose ATP ranking at 41 was several notches below the towering Croat. But having seen del Potro giving a chance to Argentina, Delbonis played fearlessly and his straight sets win meant that Argentina snatched the coveted Davis Cup from Croatia to disappoint the partisan home crowd on Sunday evening. By all accounts, it was a stunning final day performance from a nation that had lost Davis Cup finals in 1981, 2006, 2008 and 2011 and converted heavy odds to record their first-ever Davis Cup triumph.
The 2016 Davis Cup final between hosts Croatia and Argentina got underway on Friday November 25 at Arena Zagreb. In the first singles match, Croat no.1 Marin Cilic played against Federico Delbonis and mounted to a 2-0 lead on sets. But Delbonis didn’t give up and staged a glorious comeback in the next two sets to force the decider. However, Cilic found his rhythm in the final set for a 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2 victory that put Croatia 1-0 ahead. The second singles involved Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic and Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. It was a battle between two of the world’s most massively built tennis players. At 37 years of age, the 211cm tall 104-kg Ivo Karlovic is world no.37 and the oldest player to figure among ATP’s top 100. He also holds the record for most aces in tennis history. That count now stands at 10825. Only Goran Ivanisevic, also from Croatia, has crossed 10000 aces. Del Potro stands 198 cm tall and weighs 97 kg. The 28-year old del Potro had won the 2009 US Open and was once ranked no.4 in the world. But a long lay-off for his three wrist surgeries has brought him behind Karlovic at no. 38. After del Potro took the first set 6-4, Karlovic put up a hard fight and used his serve-and-volley game to win the second set on tiebreaks. The two warriors kept battling over the next two sets before del Potro won at 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5. The first day ended with two nations level at 1-1.
For the crucial doubles on Saturday, Argentina captain Daniel Orsanic replaced Guido Pella with del Potro to partner Leonardo Mayer. Croatia too changed their team with Marin Cilic coming in for Franko Skugor. Of the four players forming the two doubles teams, Ivan Dodig was the only doubles specialist. They played the first set without losing the service but Croatia dominated the first set tie break. In the second, Mayer dropped his serve in the third game. However, after the Argentines broke Dodig’s service in the eighth game, the second set also sailed into tiebreak and yet again Croatia dictated terms. In third set, despite Argentina taking an early 2-1 lead, Dodig/Cilic played far better and won at 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 to put Croatia 2-1 ahead.
On Sunday, Croatia almost had the Davis Cup in their bag, when Marin Cilic won the first two sets against del Potro. But the Argentine bounced back remarkably. His comeback began with a spectacular between-the-legs shot, followed by a counter-lob after Cilic’s lob had almost won the day for Croatia. That set went to the tiebreak, where del Potro extracted three set points riding on Cilic’s three unforced errors. With third set taken, del Potro kept the momentum going in fourth, which saw the tennis of highest quality with the two players producing booming aces and clean winners in turn. Then del Potro found the much-needed break and forced the decider by winning the fourth set. The two traded breaks early in the fifth set and the duel became engrossing. With frustration mounting, Cilic slammed his racquet even as del Potro broke him in eighth game and by holding his own serve next; took the contest to wire with a 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 win after 4 hours 53 minutes.
Now it was left to Federico Delbonis to win the Davis Cup for Argentina while Ivo Karlovic had the same onus for Croatia. However, with Karlovic dropping his serve in sixth game of first set, it was an easy take for Delbonis at 6-3. The Argentine moved around the court with alacrity and after saving a break point in sixth game of the second, broke Karlovic in ninth game to take the second set as well. Delbonis began the third set by breaking the towering Croat in the third game but had to save two break points himself in the fifth. After that, it was a one-way traffic and the left-handed Argentine created history by beating Karlovic 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Some 1500 Argentinian travelers watched their stars on the final day as del Potro and Delbonis turned the tables on Croatia. Among Argentine fans was also the iconic football star Diego Maradona, seated in the VIP box.
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