A day after being scratched from the opening singles and then falling behind two sets and a break in the doubles, Croatian number one Marin Cilic returned with a vengeance on Saturday in Osijek, Croatia to hand his nation a 2-1 lead in their Davis Cup first-round clash with Canada. The Croatians overcame a strong performance from the Canadians to score a 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 comeback win. The momentum in the decider was firmly in the home team’s corner, as Pospisil needed to save two break points in the opening game of the fifth set. From 2-2, Croatia seized control and never looked back. They seemed to have Pospisil’s serve figured out and broke him again, courtesy of back-to-back return winners followed by a mis-hit volley from Nestor. The hosts kept rolling, taking a 15-40 lead on Nestor’s serve, setting up break point with a massive return winner from Dodig, and broke when Pospisil’s stabbing volley flew long. With the match on his racquet, Dodig showed no signs of nerves, wrapping up the comeback win with a hold to love.
Partnering Ivan Dodig, the Croatians were no match early on for the veteran Canadian pair of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, who won the first two sets and led by a break in the third. Bolstered by the home crowd, Cilic and Dodig mounted a furious comeback, stunning the Canadians and grabbing a crucial lead heading into the final day of singles play on Sunday.
Strong start for Canada
With Cilic returning, the pressure was on the Canadian doubles pair to take the lead going into the reverse singles. They came out flying, using some great returns to take advantage of some poor serving from Dodig to set up double break point. They would miss both returns but set up a third when Cilic netted a volley and converted when Dodig netted a backhand.
Croatia’s next service game was nearly identical to their first, only this time on Cilic’s serve. Once again, the Canadians grabbed a 15-40 lead courtesy of some thunderous returns, including two clean return winners by the 45-year-old Nestor against one of the tour’s biggest servers. Again, they failed to convert either, only to score the break at the third time of asking when Cilic netted a backhand. The visitors would take the opening set 6-2.
The second set followed a similar script to the first, with Dodig’s serve coming under pressure in his opening service game. At 30-40, Nestor’s return came up big again, as he struck an unreturnable, tightly-angled return that drew an error to give the Canadians another early break. Nestor and Pospisil would maintain that lead through the set, eventually forcing Cilic to serve to stay in the set at 3-5. The Canadians would battle to deuce and set up a break point when the world number three mis-hit a forehand. Nestor, who was turning back the clocks in the first half of the match, ripped another clean winner to wrap up the opening set.
Cilic, normally one of the most dominant servers in men’s tennis, was struggled to figure out how to get a serve past the Canadians, particularly the crafty Nestor. In his first serve game of the third set, the recent Australian Open runner-up could not take advantage of a 30-0 lead and a game point, letting the Canadians back to deuce. Nestor’s reflexes set up a break point with a half-volley that drew an error from Dodig, which they converted when Cilic could not handle the 45-year-old’s return. Pospisil would hold in the following game to give the Canadians a two-sets-to-love and 4-1 lead. The visitors seemed well on their way to a crucial victory.
Croatia roars back
After being lights-out throughout the match so far, it was Nestor’s whose level finally dropped. Serving at 4-2, the thirteen-time major champion in men’s and mixed doubles fell behind 0-40 and missed a routine volley up the middle to surrender the love break and put the set back on serve.
After leveling at 4-4, the Croatians had a chance to take the lead when Pospisil sent a volley long at 30-all to set up break point. The younger Canadian then failed to put away an overhead and Cilic drew an error with a forehand into Pospisil’s feet to give the hosts their first lead of the day. Dodig would serve out the set to love in the following game.
The fourth proved to be the closest set of the match, as both teams held their serves right down to the wire after Pospisil saved a pair of break points in the third game. With Pospisil serving again at 5-5, the Croatians made their move. Cilic, who beat Pospisil last month at the Australian Open, had the younger Canadian’s number on serve, ripping a clean return winner at 3-all to set up a breakpoint. Pospisil netted a routine volley to surrender the break. Dodig would send the match to a decider in the following game with a hold to love.
The momentum in the decider was firmly in the home team’s corner, as Pospisil needed to save two break points in the opening game of the fifth set. From 2-2, Croatia seized control and never looked back. They seemed to have Pospisil’s serve figured out and broke him again, courtesy of back-to-back return winners followed by a mis-hit volley from Nestor. The hosts kept rolling, taking a 15-40 lead on Nestor’s serve, setting up break point with a massive return winner from Dodig, and broke when Pospisil’s stabbing volley flew long. With the match on his racquet, Dodig showed no signs of nerves, wrapping up the comeback win with a hold to love.
By the numbers
Statistically, there was very little between the two teams overall. Croatia had slightly more winners, 44 to 36, while the pairs were dead even with 73 unforced errors each. One key stat was the way the Croatians attacked the Canadians’ second serves. Pospisil and Nestor combined to win only 49 percent of their second serve points, while the Croatians won 70 percent. Both teams broke serve five times in the match, but the Canadians failed to register a breakpoint after breaking early in the third set.
While not officially confirmed, it is a fairly safe assumption that Cilic will return to action tomorrow in singles, looking to close out the tie against up-and-coming Canadian star Denis Shapovalov. If Cilic does not play, it will be Borna Coric taking up the mantle. Should Shapovalov pull an upset, Vasek Pospisil will look to complete the comeback against Viktor Galovic.