No Cilic, no problem. Croatia’s gamble to rest world number three Marin Cilic paid off in their Davis Cup first-round tie with Canada on Sunday, as Borna Coric came up big in the reverse singles. The Croatian number two, playing the role of number one in the singles, defeated Canadian number one Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to give the hosts an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the tie, enough to send Croatia into the second round of the 2018 Davis Cup World Group.
Unbreakable Coric holds off Shapovalov
Despite Cilic’s return in the doubles on Saturday, Borna Coric was still the Croatian number one in the reverse singles. It appeared to be a good move early on, as he broke Denis Shapovalov’s serve in the opening game of the match courtesy of back-to-back backhand unforced errors from the Canadian. In the following game, Shapovalov reached break point but missed his return. Coric would not have much trouble on his own serve again until he tried to serve out the set at 5-4 when he fell behind 0-30. His serve would bail him out, as the next two returns did not come back, and he held to take the set 6-4.
After matching his opponent shot for shot through the first half of the second set, Shapovalov started to struggle. Serving at 3-3, the Canadian netted a half-volley to give Coric a break point. The Croatian dominated the ensuing rally and finished with a volley to take the break. Coric nearly broke again for the set two games later, taking a 0-30 lead and holding a set point at 30-40, but Shapovalov saved it with a forehand winner. The Croatian was not deterred, holding in the following game to take a two-sets-to-love lead.
Shapovalov was feeling both the pressure of his country on his back and the relentless pressure from Coric right from the start of the third set. A backhand error from the Canadian gave Coric a break point right in the opening game, but Shapovalov drew an error with some baseline aggression. Break points would come and go for the Croatian in his first three return games of the set. Finally, at 4-4, Coric raced ahead 0-40 and this time converted, ripping a passing shot winner to break and move within a game of victory. He would send Croatia into the second round of the Davis Cup by serving out the match in the following game.
By the numbers
Despite striking 22 winners to Coric’s 20, Shapovalov committed a disastrous 59 unforced errors. The Croatian only had 41 unforced errors. Coric was dominant on serve, winning 79 percent of his first serve points, 76 percent of his second serve points and did not double fault. He saved the lone break point he faced, coming in his first service game of the match.
With the 3-1 victory in the tie already assured, the fifth rubber was not played. Croatia goes on to play Kazakhstan in the second round of the Davis Cup World Group, while Canada will have to contest a playoff for the third year in a row.