Both U.S. And Croatia Are Ready, But Know It Will Be A Tough Davis Cup Tie To Win

US Davis Cup captain Jim Courier (photo: Srdjan Stevanovic)

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

When the United States Davis Cup team faces Croatia in Zadar, Croatia, on outdoor red clay in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinals beginning Friday, it will be without its top singles player from earlier rounds, World No. 10 John Isner.

“Isner told me after the match in Nashville (after the U.S. beat Belgium 4-0 in the quarterfinals), ‘we’re pregnant,.’ That was a bittersweet moment,” U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier recently said on “Tennis Channel Live at the U.S. Open” in announcing his lineup to face Croatia. Isner’s wife is expecting to give birth to the couple’s first child any day. “But I’m really happy for him personally. I’d love to have him on the team with the way he’s been playing. However, we still have five very talented players I’m very excited about.”

Stepping up to assume the No. 1 singles position for the Americans is World No. 61 Sam Querrey, a veteran of many U.S. teams. He will be joined by No. 30 Steve Johnson, newcomer Frances Tiafoe, who is ranked No. 40; and U.S. Open doubles champions Mike Bryan and Jack Sock, ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world. Bryan has come out of Davis Cup retirement with the blessing of his twin brother Bob, who has been sidelined with a hip injury much of this year. Although Sock is ranked No. 17 in singles, he’s struggled much of this year playing singles on the ATP World Tour and his value in doubles – especially since he and Mike Bryan have won consecutive Grand Slam titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this summer – can’t be ignored. The U.S. team is built around its versatility.

Meanwhile, World No. 6 Marin Cilic leads a talented Croatia team on its home soil against the United States. The Croatians, who defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 in the quarterfinal round, are vying for a place in the Davis Cup final for the second time in three years and third time overall. Joining Cilic is No. 18 Borna Coric, as well as doubles World No. 4 Mate Pavic and No. 24 Ivan Dodig. Franko Skugor rounds out the team. Croatia, which has won the Davis Cup championship once, is captained by Zeljko Krajan.

Croatia has won all four of its previous meetings against the U.S. – in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2016 – and won the 2005 Davis Cup championship over Skovakia.

Recently, Coric, 21, was asked by the ITF Davis Cup website if he gets more nervous before a Davis Cup rubber than an ATP World Tour or Grand Slam match. He said: “I do. But I have played many Davis Cup matches already – I’m still young but I started when I was 16 – so I know how to deal with it and do so much better now than a couple of years ago.

“I’m trying to have a similar mindset (to a Tour or Grand Slam match). That’s my goal, otherwise I get far too nervous.  Don’t feel good and I start cramping. 

“It’s not easy, especially if you’re playing at home and it’s a very big crowd as you feel more pressure, but you have to know how to deal with it.”

The last time that the two teams met in the Davis Cup – a 3-2 Croatian victory over the U.S. on a hard court surface in Portland, Oregon, two years ago – Croatia entered the final day of the tie trailing 2-1. Then, Cilic leveled the match with a 7-6 (9), 6-3, 6-4 over Isner before Coric clinched the tie with a win over Sock, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was just the fourth time in 161 ties that the U.S. had lost a Davis Cup tie after leading 2-0.

“With Davis Cup, you just never know what you’re going to get,” said Courier. “After we led 2-0, we were feeling great with Bob (Bryan) and Mike (Bryan) going into the doubles and, then, the Croatians did something that’s very rare: they came back and won three in a row. So, we’ll take nothing for granted.”

Although the U.S. has won the Davis Cup a record 32 times, they are looking to reach the finals for just the first time since 2007, in which they beat Russia for the title.

Courier said he is looking forward to the challenge of facing Croatia on the road. “They are a very deep and dangerous squad playing at home. It’s going to be awesome and exciting.”

“It’s going to be a great tie, for sure,” said Coric. “Playing in Croatia now is going to be different. Playing on clay maybe suits us a little bit more. We’ll see what happens.”