Argentina has finally been able to clinch a maiden Davis Cup by BNP Paribas trophy after a thrilling come-from-behind win on the third and final day against hosts Croatia in the final in Zagreb.
The elusive trophy seemed to be out of their grasp as they came into Day 3 trailing 1-2. A massive comeback from 2016 Olympic silver medallist Juan Martin Del Potro in his reverse singles drew the visitors level with the hosts. In the deciding rubber, Federico Delbonis swept aside Ivo Karlovic, to subdue the local crowd and reward Argentina with their first win in the event after having been finalists on four previous occasions.
Marin Cilic (CRO) d Federico Delbonis (ARG) 6-3 7-5 3-6 1-6 6-2
The result was as expected in the first match, as world #6 Marin Cilic defeated #40 Federico Delbonis to put the hosts up by one rubber to love. It was not all one-way traffic however, as Cilic was made to dig deep for this win. Seemingly sailing ahead at two sets to love up, Cilic let Delbonis back into the match as the Argentinian levelled at two sets apiece. Cilic was able to stamp his authority in the fifth set, however, with a comprehensive 6-2 scoreline.
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3 7-5
Although ranked eighteen places below his 20th ranked opponent, Juan Martin Del Potro is never an easy opponent and can never be written off, especially given the come-back year he has been having. Furthermore, when playing for his country, he is always able to find that little bit extra, as he demonstrated with such fervour at the Olympics this year. Ivo Karlovic returned to the Croatian squad for the first time in four years to replace up-and-comer Borna Coric, who was forced out of the tie recovering from knee surgery. Having lost the second set in a tie-break, Del Potro won the first third and fourth sets thanks to just one break of serve in each, indicating the closeness of the match.
Marin Cilic/Ivan Dodig (CRO) d Juan Martin del Potro/Leonardo Mayer (ARG) 7-6(2) 7-6(4) 6-3
Before the match, Marin Cilic and compatriot Ivan Ljubicic were awarded the ITF Davis Cup Commitment Award for being dedicated representatives of their countries and playing in over 20 ties each. It was Cilic and Ivan Dodig who teamed up for the locals against Del Potro and Leonardo Mayer in the doubles. Cheered on by football legend Diego Maradona, perched in the stands along with thousands of other vocal fans, it was not enough to help the Argentines to victory. The very tight battle went the way of the Croats in two tiebreak sets and just one vital break in the third set. This set up an enthralling third day, as it was still anyone’s final.
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) d Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-7(4) 2-6 7-5 6-4 6-3
On court for the third time in as many days, Del Potro again faced his good friend Marin Cilic, this time in the reverse singles. The higher ranked local player took charge of the match, coasting to a two-sets to love lead, outgunning the Argentinian in power, serving and winners. The crowd was buzzing, expectant of a straight set win and ready to lift the roof of the Zagreb arena with their cheering and flag-waving. Del Potro, however, was not done. Some uncanny errors off the Cilic racquet late in the third, essentially handed Del Potro the set. Perhaps nagging thoughts of having to tough out a five-set win after being up two sets to love in the first rubber were playing on Cilic’s mind. In any case, it was not obvious, as the players went toe to toe until Del Potro secured the vital break late in the fourth and won the set with a trademark power forehand Cilic just could not get back. Ragged and sore, both players gave it their all in the final set. It was a netted Cilic return that handed victory to Del Potro, as he etched his name in Davis Cup history with this enthralling comeback victory to keep the tie well and truly alive in what he stated as “one of the biggest wins of my career.”
Federico Delbonis (ARG) d Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 6-3 6-4 6-2
The less touted of each team’s players were thrust into protagonist roles in a live winner-takes-it-all rubber. The Argentinians were riding high after Del Potro’s stunning victory, and the locals were no doubt apprehensive, as they had come so close to claiming a win in the previous rubber. Delbonis played clean, effective tennis, keeping his opponent on the move and pinned behind the baseline. A stray return from Karlovic gave the first set to the Argentine. In what was virtually a carbon copy, with Delbonis serving on the deuce court, Karlovic’s backhand returned sailed long to secure the second set for Delbonis. Smelling blood and sensing victory, Delbonis was more emphatic in the third set, breaking Karlovic twice, as well as local hearts, while closing out the match and the tie in straight sets.
FINAL SCORE ARGENTINA 3 - CROATIA 2
Having most recently been in the final in 2011, Argentina were rightly proud of their team effort, but gave particular praise to Del Potro. Having played the maximum of three possible total matches, Del Potro was hailed as “genius” with a big heart by the team captain, Daniel Orsanic. Argentina can finally hold aloft the coveted Davis Cup trophy, thus becoming the fifteenth nation to do so in the history of tennis’ world championship event.