Croatian Davis Cup team took a surprise 2-1 lead over star-studded Spanish team in their Davis Cup World Group encounter here.

Playing without most prominent players world No. 7 Marin Cilic and ATP Rising Star Award recipient Borna Coric, Croatia face the strong Spanish side led by world No. 6 Roberto Bautista Agut and French Open doubles winners Feliciano and Marc Lopez.

Croatia’s Franko Skugor, 29, stunned the Spanish led by captain and 1994 Wimbledon Ladies winner Conchita Martinez as the world No.223 edged world No. 26 Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) in Friday’s singles. Bautista Agut leveled the score for Spain, beating Ante Pavic 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Croatia regained the lead on Saturday as Marin Draganja and Nikola Mektic beat Feliciano and Marc Lopez 6-7, (6-8), 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 6-4 after four hours and 23 minutes and taking the Croatian team just one win away from the triumph that even team captain Zeljko Krajan and his players didn’t dare to dream of.

“Franko (Skugor) surprised me with the level of play that he managed to sustain during the whole match. He gave us hope as a team that we could achieve something that we wished for in our wildest dreams,” Krajan said on Friday.

However, Skugor was the one to point out that the difference between the players is not that big as the rankings and playing experience would suggest.

“Some of us are still going through the things that our opponents went through to become the players that they are today. We played against them and those kind of players, so we know that we can compete with them. But to beat them, we have to be on 120 percent and they can win playing around 80 percent. That is the only difference. We don’t think of them as unbeatable,” Skugor said after scoring the best win of his career.

Skugor was on the spot with his statement as his win built up the confidence of other members of Croatian team.

“I never had any doubts that I would serve out for the win,” Mektic said after firing an ace on a match point as he didn’t show any nerves during the match.

“I wasn’t afraid. Actually, I was wondering during the match why I don’t feel any fear.”

Mektic’s calming presence influenced his partner Marin Draganja, too.

“We had fun on the court and I didn’t feel any pressure or tension”, Draganja said after spending almost four and a half hours fighting for every point.

On Sunday, the Spanish team need both points that are on the table as captain Martinez will put all her hope in Bautista Agut to give her a chance to think about which player to pick for the potential deciding rubber. One option for Martinez is to stay with Busta who collapsed on Friday when he had a chance to close out the match against Skugor.

“We have a fourth match to think about. There is enough time to think about the fifth match if it happens,” Martinez said on Saturday.

Her other option is to bring in Feliciano Lopez, late replacement for Rafael Nadal who was worn out after his run to the Australian Open final. Joining the team, the 35-year-old lefthander brought experience and options to Martinez as she could pick him for doubles and singles matches. Lopez didn’t show up for doubles but could be a Spanish hero if he wins the deciding rubber on Sunday.

On the other side of the table, Croatian team will go out on Sunday with the same approach they had from the first day of this tie, giving it all without anything to lose.

Serbia is waiting for the winner of the tie in Osijek in the quarter-finals scheduled in April.

Source: Xinhua/


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