OSIJEK, February 4, 2017
Croatia leads 2-1 over Spain after Day 2 of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie, held at the Sportska Dvorana Gradski Vrt in Osijek, as Marin Draganja and Nikola Mektic battled past Feliciano López and Marc López.
Without any changes of nominations both teams headed into Saturday’s doubles rubber with the Croats being the clear underdogs against the reigning Roland Garros champions.
Draganja, currently ranked 114 in the doubles ranking, has teamed up in Davis Cup with Mate Pavic, Marin Cilic and Franko Skugor in the past, but never with Mektic. They last played together at Wimbledon last year when they fell in the opening round.
In front of almost packed stands, each pairing got broken three times in the first set. The Spanish team needed a tie-break to gain the lead but after two more breakers the Croats were up 2-1 in sets. Much better stuff from team López led to a comfortable win of the fourth frame, taking the match the distance.
Draganja and Mektic, backed by the majority of the 4,000 spectators inside the arena, gained another early break in the fifth set and eventually had the chance to serve out. Mektic kept his nerves, finding an ace in the right moment to seal a 6-7(6), 7-6(7,) 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4 victory after four hours and 23 minutes.
“We were definitely not playing that well for the first two sets. They also raised their game afterwards. But the way we played on the fifth set, we definitely deserved it. And the court suited us, we were playing the best on it,” Mektic told.
“Unfortunately we are still not the favourites in this match because Spain is very strong,” added Draganja.
Croatia is bidding to reach back-to-back quarterfinals for the first time since 2009-2010. The nation is making its 15th World Group appearance.
The Spaniards were understandably disappointed and had to admit defeat.
“The match was very close. Overall, our performance was quite good. Unfortunately, my serve didn’t work as good as it usually does. We were raising our level in the fourth set and then I got broken at the beginning of the fifth with two doubles faults. This was maybe the key,” Feliciano López practiced self-criticism in the post-match press conference.
“Nikola played a great match, was very aggressive on the return. He played his best towards the end of the match. But both played great in the fifth set,” the Toledo native told.
“Ahead of the match, I didn’t know about Mektic. I only played Draganja a couple of times but both competed at really high level today,” Marc López added.
The Spanish team, spending two years in Europe/Africa Zone Group I, still wants to reach its first quarterfinal in the World Group since 2012.
“It’s pretty easy. We have to win both matches tomorrow in order to win the tie. So we will see what is going to happen in the first match. Now, we will go back to the hotel, having some dinner to return to tomorrow with full energy,” Spanish captain Conchita Martínez concluded.