Davis Cup: U.S. Doubles Holds Off Elimination, Wins Emotional Five-Set Grind

Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison keep tie alive in Zadar.

Davis cup Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison (photo: Sportfoto Zimmer)

WASHINGTON, September 15, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Facing a win-or-go-home proposition, the U.S. Davis Cup team pulled out an emotional grind of a win over Croatia in Saturday’s doubles rubber at the Sportski Centar Visnjik in Zadar. The American team of World No. 1 Mike Bryan and No. 54 Ryan Harrison defeated No. 4 Mate Pavic and No. 24 Ivan Dodig of Croatia, 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), in four hours and 43 minutes. The U.S. outpointed Croatia by one single point, 193-192. It was the longest U.S. Davis Cup match since the introduction of the fifth-set tie break in 1989.

In a rubber that ebbed and flowed for both teams, the U.S. won the pivotal doubles rubber on its second match-point opportunity during the 57-minute fifth-set, decided by a tie-break, when Harrison hit an off-center forehand winner that split in between Pavic and Dodig. There were hugs by the American teammates after victory was secured and a sigh of relief by U.S. captain Jim Courier.

“We both have high energy; it’s great to win one for the country,” said the 40-year-old Bryan, who came out of retirement to play in this tie, during an on-court interview after the rubber. “7-6 in the fifth, on the road and on dirt. This is right up there and I will never forget this one.”

It wasn’t an easy triumph for the Americans by any means – even though the U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 advantage.

The Americans came from 3-5 down to pull out the first set 7-5. Harrison fought off a set point to hold serve in the ninth game. Then, the U.S. strung together eight straight points to go ahead 6-5. With the momentum and a set point in their favor, at 30-40, Harrison hit a forehand winner off Dodig’s serve that went between him and Pavic to secure the set.

Early in the second set, the U.S. broke to go ahead 4-2, but Croatia broke back on a forehand winner by Dodig. Then, he held his serve for 4-all. Later, Croatia saved a set point to hold for 6-all to force a tie-break. The Americans held steady, when necessary, and won the tie-break 8-6 to go up two sets to none.

Needing to win the third set to remain in the rubber, Croatia rebounded to go ahead in the third set 4-0 and easily won it 6-1.

At 5-all in the fourth set, the mostly-Croatian crowd raised the intensity of their cheering as shadows began to take effect on the red clay court. Then, the U.S. on Bryan’s serve fought off two break points to hold for 6-5. Next, on Pavic’s serve, the Croatians held steady to force a tie-break. A service ace by Pavic gave Croatia a commanding 5-1. However, the U.S. recovered and won four straight points to even the score at 5-all. Croatia won the final two points of the tie-break on a couple of forced errors by the Americans to win 7-5.

In the final set, the U.S. broke Pavic and Harrison held for a 2-0 lead. However, Croatia got the break back in the fourth game to level the score at 2-all, and Pavic held for a 3-2 advantage, needing to win just three more games to win the rubber and clinch the tie. Dodig was solid in an easy hold for 4-3. Then, after Bryan held as the rubber reached the four-hour mark – and with an electric crowd cheering every Croat point – Pavic and Dodig stepped up and played solid tennis. They forced a fifth-set tie break to decide the match. It would be the third tie-break of the rubber.

Early in the tie-break, a net return by Dodig gave the U.S. a 3-1 advantage that the Americans maintained. Then, at 6-5, Croatia fought off one match point when Harrison hit a long forehand return. However, the Croatians weren’t able to save the second match point – and the U.S. pulled out the victory and earned the opportunity to play on another day.

With the U.S. still alive after the second day of the semifinal tie, Sunday’s reverse singles will match World No. 6 Marin Cilic of Croatia against No. 30 Steve Johnson of the U.S. in the fourth rubber. If U.S. wins, then the deciding fifth rubber would be decided by Croatia’s 18th ranked Borna Coric and the U.S.’s Frances Tiafoe, ranked 40th. The U.S.-Croatia winner will face France in the Davis Cup final in November.