In the last year of Davis Cup action before the sweeping, and controversial, changes are put into place, 2005 Davis Cup champions Croatia take on the most successful nation in Davis Cup history, the United States, who have lifted the title on 32 occasions. But the last of those victories came in 2007 and they have not reached a final since. Croatia, in contrast, have been consistent performers of late and finished runners-up in 2015. But who will reach the final?
The Croatian Team
Croatia are led into action by 2014 US Open champion and world #6 Marin Cilic. Earlier this season he reached the final in Melbourne, losing narrowly to Roger Federer in five sets, and he was also a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros and at the US Open. But he is not the only star the Croatians can call upon. Joining him in the team is young gun Borna Coric, ranked 18th in the world and with victories over Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer to his name.
That should give the Croatians a strong pair of singles players, but they have quality to send out in the doubles rubbers as well. Mate Pavic was the world’s best doubles player as recently as May. That rise came as a result of his excellent results partnered with Oliver Marach, with the pair winning the Australian Open and reaching the final in Paris. Rounding out the team is Ivan Dodig, not the force he once was, but still a Grand Slam champion after winning the French Open in 2015.
The US Team
But as powerful as the Croatian team looks, they will not have it all their own way against the USA. John Isner did not make himself available for selection whilst Jack Sock, struggling in singles but enjoying a great season on the doubles court, dropped out. That left Houston and Newport champion Steve Johnson to lead the USA in singles. He will be assisted by the debutant Frances Tiafoe, who won the title in Delray Beach and has scored some fine wins already this year.
The USA have also brought the formidable talents of Mike Bryan out of retirement. Though he has been separated from his twin Bob due to Bob’s hip surgery, Bryan has forged a profitable partnership with Jack Sock. Together they won Wimbledon and the US Open, victories that did much to remind the tennis world of Bryan’s enduring quality. Partnering him will most likely be 2017 French Open doubles champion Ryan Harrison, who could also take to the court in a singles rubber.
This tie is being contested on Croatian territory. They have chosen to play the tie in Zadar at the Sportski Centar Visnjik on outdoor clay. That will require a quick adjustment to a change of surface for the players who have been competing on hard courts for over a month now. But with the US Open courts having played slowly with a high bounce, the change may be more manageable than in more recent years, though the Americans have long struggled on clay.
Man for man the Croatian team is unquestionably the stronger. Marin Cilic is a class above either of the USA’s singles players and that Borna Coric is also ranked above both will not fill USA captain Jim Courier with massive confidence. Add to that the fact that the Croatians are playing at home and on clay, a surface they are more comfortable on than the Americans and it looks a tough ask for the US. They may pick up a win in the doubles rubber, but expect a 3-1 Croatian win.