In a showdown between the world’s best player and the pair of doubles, the Croatian duo defeated a Serbia led by Novak Djokovic to send their country to the Davis Cup final.
Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic sidelined Djokovic and his partner Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 6-1 in doubles on Friday to win the semi-final for Croatia 2-1.
Croatia will seek their third Davis Cup on Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s other semi-final between Russia and Germany.
Djokovic had already done what he could to force the doubles match after Borna Gojo put Croatia in the lead by upsetting Dusan Lajovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the opening singles.
Djokovic equalized Serbia at 1-1 defeating Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-2 before falling back to the hard inside Madrid Arena for the decider.
But the well-honed teamwork of Mektic and Pavic proved too much for the 20-time Grand Slam winner.
âWe went there believing we could do it, but we always knew it would be the hardest rubber if it was doubles, playing the best team in the world,â said Djokovic. âThey know each other so well, when one crosses, the other knows where the other will be. We singles players just play it back in the middle. They always make you hit the perfect shot.
Serbia have won the two previous Davis Cup encounters with Croatia since they became independent nations following the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Nikola Cacic was due to join Djokovic in a doubles event, but team captain Viktor Troicki made a last-minute change to have Krajinovic play alongside his star.
Djokovic did what he could early on, hitting five aces to save five break points to keep Serbia in the first set.
But when Krajinovic had to retain his serve to force a tie-breaker in the first set, he came back into the net twice before Mektic broke his serve by crushing a forehand past the Serbs.
Going into a set, the Croatian partners were ruthlessly efficient the rest of the course, breaking Serbia’s serve twice more. It was over when Djokovic sent his last shot up and down.
âWe really had a great mindset from the start,â said Metkic. âEveryone on the team gave 110%. What can I say about our second guy who won some great games.
Croatia’s No.2 Gojo kicked them off with a victory which Troicki said was the ‘crux’ of the tie given the Croats’ strength in doubles.
The 279th-ranked Gojo dominated Lajovic after the Serbian recovered from 4-1 to win the opening set. Gojo broke Lajovic’s serve five times to give his team the early advantage.
Djokovic then dominated Cilic, coming back one set after saving four break points. He then went through the second set, stroking the winners who delighted the pavilion filled with fans from both nations.
Concluding a spectacular season that included three Grand Slam victories, Djokovic said Serbia must learn from defeat if they hope to win the Davis Cup again.
“As much as it hurts, these are usually the best times to develop and become a better person and a better player, and I hope we learn from what has happened this year,” said Djokovic. “We really need to have a doubles team that consistently plays together or it will be an Everest to climb.”
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