WASHINGTON, September 15, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The United States Davis Cup team faces the unenviable task of needing to win three consecutive rubbers – Saturday’s doubles plus both of Sunday’s reverse singles – to beat Croatia and advance to November’s Davis Cup final.
It’s not an impossible task. Just ask Croatia, which found itself in the same position against the U.S. two years ago, trailing 2-0 on the road in Portland, Oregon. The Croatians regrouped, won the doubles and, then, completed a sweep of the reverse singles to pull out a 3-2 victory over the Americans.
On Saturday at 2 p.m. (local time), the U.S. will have to rely on World doubles No. 1 Mike Bryan, who came out of Davis Cup retirement to play in this tie, and No. 54 Ryan Harrison, who was a late replacement for injured No. 2 Jack Sock, to extend its tie against Croatia. Although it’s the first time for a Bryan-Harrison pairing, the two have enjoyed substantial individual doubles success. Bryan is an 18-time Grand Slam doubles champion as well as the U.S. Davis Cup team’s all-time winningest doubles player with a 26-5 career win-loss record. He’s never lost a Davis Cup doubles rubber on clay, going 13-0. Meanwhile, Harrison won the 2017 French Open doubles crown and earlier this year, helped the U.S. clinch first-round and quarterfinal-round tie victories, playing with Sock.
Bryan and Harrison will face formidable opposition in No. 4 Mate Pavic and No. 24 Ivan Dodig, a Croatian Davis Cup veteran. Pavic and Dodig are 12-6 lifetime, but have only played one Davis Cup doubles match together, which they lost to Great Britain in 2013. It remains a possibility that Croatia’s coach, Zeljko Krajan, might decide last minute to substitute in Marin Cilic. Dodig and Cilic are 5-2 when paired together in Davis Cup doubles and they helped spark Croatia’s comeback against the U.S. in 2016.
After Croatia jumped to a 2-0 lead over the U.S. after Friday’s singles rubbers, U.S. team captain Jim Courier was asked about the importance of Saturday’s doubles rubber. He said, “Doubles is always critical in Davis Cup. It’s always a key match, and sometimes … the last time we were playing Croatia, we were trying to put them away, and it turned the tide for them. We’re hoping we can generate that kind of momentum for the American squad.
“Obviously, it is do-or-die. Every match will be do-or-die from here on in for us. So, we know what the stakes are, but that’s what we came here for. We came here to battle. We came here to fight for every point.”
Meanwhile, Cilic was asked after his straight-set victory over U.S. Davis Cup rookie Frances Tiafoe on Friday, which lifted Croatia to its 2-0 advantage, what the doubles rubber means to his team. He said, “We have to keep our head down, work for the third point. I feel that even before the tie had started, even when Jack (Sock) was in the combinations, the U.S. had very strong positions in doubles and definitely they still do. We have to just keep going and hopefully, even (Saturday), or if it happens on Sunday, to get a third point.”