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Cilic Wins Epic, Clinches Croatia's DC Semifinal Spot

By Alberto Amalfi | Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Wearing Croatian colors inspires deep defiance in Marin Cilic.

More: Nick Bollettieri Tribute

Today, a gritty Cilic clinched Croatia's spot in its sixth Davis Cup semifinal with a rousing comeback conquest of Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. 

Cilic edged Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a three-hour, 13 minute thriller capping Croatia's 2-0 victory over host Spain in Malaga, Spain. 

Bidding for its third Davis Cup championship, Croatia will face Australia in Friday's semifinals.

Australia defeated The Netherlands, 2-0, in Tuesday's quarterfinal.

A confident Borna Coric served with conviction staking Croatia to a 1-0 lead with a 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory against Roberto Bautista Agut. Coric's victory set the stage for Cilic's inspired comeback. Coric pumped 12 aces against no double faults and did not drop serve beating Bautista Agut. 

"I think I was serving very, very well. I thought I didn't serve this well since probably Cincinnati, to be honest," Coric said. "So obviously it's much easier to play like that. I can relax more on the service games when he's serving, because I know most likely I will hold my serve. So that's made a difference.

"I just think in general I was playing very smart. When I needed to attack, I did attack. When I needed to make a defense, I was defensive. I also mix up the rhythm, as well, which is very important against him. I was just very pleased with my game, to be honest."

The 2014 US Open champion Cilic navigated a wild ride against the home side. Cilic cracked 20 aces but clanked double faults, sometimes following a double fault with a massive ace down the middle.

Facing a 5-6, love-30 deficit in the final set, Cilic teetered two points away from the ledge of loss. Cilic kept calm, held to force the tiebreaker then rallied from 1-4 down in the breaker to prevail.

"Obviously I had a little bit of trouble on my own service games just to, you know, keep everything together," Cilic said. "You know, I was double-faulting quite a lot and had quite a lot of troubles with that.

"But overall, you know, kept my cool. It was not easy. You know, 4-2, coming back, 4-All, getting up to 5-4, and then it was also quite difficult game 5-4 just to hold there and get myself into the tiebreak.

"Overall, you know, summarizing a lot of matches of my career in this end of the third set, so it was incredible battle."

It marked the first time Cilic and Coric were healthy singles starters for Croatia since 2018, when the nation captured its second Davis Cup.

Tennis Express

A year ago, Cilic and Borna Gojo were singles starters as Croatia reached the 2021 final bowing to Russia in the final.

Today, Croatia caught a break in that Spain was without world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, who is recovering from a torn abdominal, and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who declared himself unavailable and is currently on an exhibition tour with Casper Ruud.

"You know, it would be much different, because I would say, both of them are -- you know, Rafa has been during all his career, you know, a leader of the team and, you know, with his own results and always enjoyed this, like, team atmosphere," Cilic said. "And, you know, playing singles, doubles, he's one of the, if not the best, Davis Cup players ever, you know, in that sense.

"And then with Carlos, fantastic season for him. Such a pity for him to get injury at Paris-Bercy, not to be able to play also the Masters in Torino, and then also this one at home. So it's very difficult for both of them. Yeah, but a lot to look ahead for Team Spain in the following years, for sure."

Photo credit: Getty