OSIJEK, February 3, 2017
Croatia and Spain ended the opening day of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie all-square at 1-1 at the Sportska Dvorana Gradski Vr in Osijek.
The hosts, who are missing their three top ranked players, gained an early lead on Friday afternoon, as Franko Skugor upset Pablo Carreno-Busta in the opening rubber. Croatia’s number one, ranked 223 in the world, emerged victorious from an epic battle with the World No. 26 from Gijón, winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6).
Skugor and Carreno-Busta have never met for a competitive match before, but there was a time when both players competed at the ATP Challenger Tour with the 25-year-old Spaniard leaving the series in 2015 by claiming his 11th Challenger title. Since then, Carreno-Busta has established himself on the ATP World Tour, where he lifted his first two trophies last year in Winston-Salem and Moscow.
In front of his home crowd, however, Skugor was highly motivated and had his chances for an early break in the fifth game of the opening set but couldn’t finish off the job. In the following, the higher ranked Spaniard started to dictate most of the rallies and broke to love in the seventh game to secure the frame.
Skugor, who hasn’t won a singles match since November last year, eventually found his rhythm, gaining a break in the sixth game to serve the set out in the ninth. The big Croat started to move better, eliminated his unforced errors and put a lot of pressure on the Spaniard’s second serve. Skugor clinched the fourth set after two hours of play and atmosphere heated up at the Sportska Dvorana Gradski Vrt.
In an even fourth set, Carreno-Busta capitalized on his only chance of a break on set point, sending a backhand winner down the line to take the match the distance. The Spaniard took the momentum into the decider, gaining an early lead, but couldn’t serve out in the ninth game, missing three match points. Skugor was wide awake in the decider, putting away a winning forehand volley to secure the opening rubber after four hours and three minutes.
“It’s tough for me to describe. With a crowd like this it’s amazing, that’s why we all love Davis Cup. It gets 130 per cent out of you. It’s probably one of my biggest wins, very emotional as well. I had no confidence, the wins haven’t been there, but that’s where the crowd comes in,” Skugor told after his first Top 30 win.
“The last chance I had to beat one of the top guys was against Benoit Paire in Wimbledon last year but I lost 8-10 in the fifth set. So I am very happy to make it this time.”
Carreno-Busta contested his first live rubber for Spain. He won on his only previous appearance in Davis Cup, defeating Adrian Ungur in straight sets in a dead rubber in Spain’s 4-1 Europe/Africa Zone Group I win over Romania last July.
“I was a bit nervous but I played a solid opening set. Franko played very well. I tried to fight all the time. I had my chances to win the match but that’s tennis,” Carreno-Busta said. “It is very difficult, in particular when you play away and the crowd is backing the home team, which is normal. That’s part of the Davis Cup.”
Bautista-Agut Edges Past Pavic
Later the evening, Roberto Bautista-Agut defeated Davis Cup debutant Ante Pavic 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to draw Spain level with Croatia. The World No. 16 from Castellón sent down six aces and converted five of his 17 break point chances to secure victory in two hours and four minutes.
“I was a bit nervous before the match, as I watched the encounter of my friend Pablo but I showed some solid performance today,” Bautista-Agut told. “There is always pressure competing at the Davis Cup. I would have played calmer, if Pablo won but I was very aggressive and I did a good job.”
Spanish captain Conchita Martinez didn’t seem to be too surprised that her team is not 2-0 up after the opening day. “You can never be sure to win a match. Everything can happen, especially in Davis Cup. Franko played a great match, he served amazing and went for his shots. Roberto, however, did a decent job to level the tie. We will see what is going to happen tomorrow.”
On Saturday afternoon, Spanish doubles combination of Feliciano López and Marc López will face the Croatian tandem Marin Draganja and Nikola Mektic.