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Rediff.com  » Sports » Croatia edge closer to first Davis Cup triumph

Croatia edge closer to first Davis Cup triumph

December 04, 2005 08:58 IST

Ivan Ljubicic is one victory away from clinching a first Davis Cup for Croatia after he and Mario Ancic teamed up to beat Slovakian duo Dominik Hrbaty and Michal Mertinak 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 on Saturday.

After being pushed hard early on, the Croatians took control to put their team 2-1 ahead in the best-of-five final. They will be crowned champions if either Ljubicic or Ancic win their reverse singles on Sunday in the Sibamac Arena.

Ljubicic is first on court against Hrbaty, knowing a place in the history books is tantalisingly close. Another win would give Croatia an unassailable 3-1 lead and complete a remarkable 12-0 win-loss record for him in this year's competition.

The last person to do that was American John McEnroe in 1982 when he also went through a campaign with a 100 percent record, although Ljubicic's record is more impressive as all of his victories have been in live rubbers.

"Tomorrow is definitely the most important match of my life," said the 26-year-old world number nine, who has become a hero in Croatia for his exploits this year.

"But it's a positive that I've played lots of matches with huge pressure leading up to the Masters Cup. But no question, for Dominik as well, it's going to be the biggest match of our lives."

After Hrbaty had beaten Ancic on Friday to level the tie at 1-1, the doubles rubber became pivotal for the two central European nations who are both appearing in their first final.

With Karol Beck, Mertinak's regular doubles partner ruled out with a knee injury, Slovak captain Miloslav Mecir was forced to shuffle his pack, although Mertinak and Hrbaty have some form having reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals this year.

The Slovak pair gelled well early on and had opportunities, particularly in the first and third sets, but paid a heavy price for not taking them.

"We had our chances but were not lucky enough to take them," said Hrbaty, who will need to produce the form of his life to beat Ljubicic and keep the final alive on Sunday.

"We had a couple of chances in the first set, but we were not lucky enough to convert them," said the world number 19 who has lost all five of his previous matches against Ljubicic.

"Tomorrow is another day. I'm better in singles and I will certainly fight for the point. We've been 2-1 down before and won, and we can still do it."

ELECTRIC ATMOSPHERE

Mertinak served for the first set at 5-4, but nervy volleying combined with some Ljubicic brilliance allowed the Croatians to break back and force a tiebreak.

If the tennis was patchy, the atmosphere in the 4,000-capacity hall was electric and only four of the first 11 points in an error-strewn breaker went with serve before a booming Ljubicic ace sealed it 7-5.

Hrbaty looked jaded in the second set as he dropped serve twice to hand Croatia a two-set lead.

Hrbaty and Mertinak raised their game in the third and at 3-3 they carved out two break points on the Ancic serve. Ljubicic saved the first, punching away a volley after some close-range sparring at the net.

Ancic saved the second break point with a clinical volley and Slovakia were offered no more chances as the Croatian pair maintained their 100 percent record in Davis Cup doubles.

Roared on by an army of vociferous travelling fans, Croatia controlled the tiebreak and sealed victory by winning it 7-5 when Hrbaty netted a wide forehand.

Source:
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