WASHINGTON, September 13, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
United States Davis Cup captain Jim Courier pulled a big surprise during Thursday’s draw ceremony to announce the U.S. lineup for its Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal tie against Croatia.
Courier, who has been captain of the U.S. team since 2010, named first-time U.S. Davis Cup team member Frances Tiafoe to the American’s starting lineup. Tiafoe, 20, currently ranked No. 40, will play in the second rubber against World No. 6 Marin Cilic on Friday on outdoor red clay at the Sportski center Visnjik in Zadar, Croatia. It will be the first meeting between Tiafoe and Cilic, who is a veteran of 23 previous Davis Cup ties and has compiled a 26-10 won-loss record in singles play.
“I’m extremely satisfied about it,” said Tiafoe. “I’m happy to be on the team, happy to get the opportunity and to be with a great group of guys. I’m just ready to go and to have a good week.”
The U.S., which has never beaten Croatia in four previous Davis Cup ties, is vying for a place in the Davis Cup final for the first time in 2007. The U.S.-Croatia winner will face the winner of the other semifinal tie between France and Spain in the Davis Cup final in November.
The Americans are already going into this weekend’s competition without two of its best players – John Isner, whose wife is expecting to give birth to the couple’s first child any day, and Jack Sock, who injured his hip during last week’s U.S. Open. No 10 Isner has been the top-ranked singles player for the U.S. this year while Sock, ranked No. 2 in the world in doubles, was expected to pair with World No. 1 Mike Bryan. Plus, Courier has decided to bypass his most experienced Davis Cup player, No. 61 Sam Querrey, whose career singles record in Davis Cup is only 9-9. He will be available to come off the bench. So, Courier figures, why not go outside the box and inject some fresh blood?
“It’s been a process going on now for several months, actually, after we had the Quarterfinals victory – seeing who was going to be healthy, who was going to be available and looking at the matchups,” said Courier about determining the singles nominations. “So we’ve been processing for quite some time.”
Although each of the players on the U.S. team has enjoyed past success on clay courts, it’s the surface of choice for host Croatia, which along with the home crowd, should favor them. Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan has assembled a solid and experienced team that’s ready to do battle with the Americans.
In Friday’s first rubber, No. 30 Steve Johnson of the U.S. will oppose No. 18 Borna Coric. It’s the second career meeting between the two. Previously, Johnson defeated Coric in four sets on red clay at Roland Garros in 2017. It will be followed by the Tiafoe-Cilic rubber.
The doubles rubber on Saturday will pair Bryan and No. 54 Ryan Harrison of the U.S. against No. 24 Ivan Dodig and No. 4 Mate Pavic of Croatia.
Sunday’s reverse singles will start with Johnson facing Cilic followed by Tiafoe against Coric.
U.S.-Croatia tie notes
• Croatia has won all four previous Davis Cup ties against the U.S. – in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2016. Two years ago in the quarterfinal round, Croatia came back from down 0-2 to beat the U.S. 3-2 indoors at Portland, Oregon.
• The U.S, which has won 32 Davis Cup championships, has not won the title since 2007. Croatia last won the Davis Cup in 2005 and is looking to reach the final for the second time in three years and the third time overall.
• Friday’s first singles rubber begins at 11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. GMT). Saturday’s doubles rubber begins at 2 p.m. local time (Noon GMT). Sunday’s reverse singles begins at 11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. GMT).