The Davis Cup quarterfinal was the focus this weekend as the U.S. played Croatia in Europe. In the fourth rubber today, with America’s back against the wall, James Blake tried to maintain his undefeated record vis-à-vis 20 year-old, Marin Cilic. However, Blake came up short against the talented youngster, as Cilic prevailed 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 sending Croatia to the semifinals.
After Blake was unable to take the lead in spite of numerous break point opportunities in the first set, Cilic broke when the American’s forehand went long in the first set for a 5-3 edge. Then, with a love game, the Croatian carried the first set. In the second set, after holding serve, with a forehand up the line winner, Blake managed a break point. But, that evaporated when James dumped a backhand down the line into the net. With excellent serves, Cilic held. At 2 all, after Blake failed to convert on a game point, Cilic made a service return winner for break point. Subsequently, Cilic capitalized with a Blake double fault to go ahead 4-2. Soon afterward, Cilic broke a second time to take a two set lead.
After comfortably holding serve to open the third, with a forehand up the line winner, Cilic arrived at break point. The Croatian scored when the American’s backhand hit the net and sailed long. Immediately, with a couple of backhand winners, Blake broke back for 1-2. Always under the knife, Blake faced several break points and dismissed them including five in the eighth game. Perhaps a little obfuscated, Cilic committed a forehand error to give Blake a break point; the latter grabbed the edge when the former’s forehand went long. James won the third and forced a fourth set.
On his first break point chance in the fourth, thanks to a backhand error by his rival, Cilic converted to take a 2-0 lead. Then, the Croat consolidated with a love game. Never in danger on serve, with a crosscourt forehand winner, Marin broke James once more to secure the set and Croatia’s semifinal berth.
With just pride at stake in the fifth rubber, Bob Bryan substituted for an injured Marty Fish while the Croatians also had a stand-in for Ivo Karlovic, Roko Karanusic. Bob, a former singles NCAA champion, beat Roko 5-7, 6-3, 7-6. After the players traded breaks for 2 all, with penetrating forehands and powerful serves, Bryan kept up with Karanusic. But, serving at 5-6, Bob made a couple of forehand errors to lose the set. After being unable to push through despite multiple break point chances, with a deep forehand crosscourt, Bryan finally got the mistake from Karanusic to jump ahead 4-1. The American consolidated with a love game and closed out the set similarly. In the third, a broken string on a backhand led to a break point for Karanusic which he secured for 4-2. Yet, after provoking a few forehand mistakes from Karanusic at 40-15, Bryan reached deuce. Then, hanging tough, Bryan managed on his sixth break point to prevail and get back on serve. Serving at 4-5, Bob saved two match points to equalize the set. In the tiebreaker, by forcing an error, Bryan captured a mini-break. Ultimately, with a forehand volley winner, Bob closed out the set and the match.
For the Americans, this weekend was a case of missed opportunities. Leading two sets to none, Blake went down to Karlovic on Friday 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 5-7. Later that day, Fish lost a heartbreaker also in five to Cilic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-8. Although the Bryan brothers thrashed their doubles opponents on Saturday, there was a sense that the Americans were in a no win situation particularly with the absence of their best player, Andy Roddick. So for the Americans, it’s time to look ahead to 2010.
Now, Croatia will battle the Czech Republic at home in the semifinals. The Czech defeated last year’s runner up Argentina 3-2. Radek Stepanek won the decider in straight sets against Juan Monaco 7-6, 6-3, 6-2. Spain also needed a fifth rubber against Germany. In that one, Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Andreas Beck 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The surprise semifinalist is Israel. The Israelis crushed the Russians, taking the first three rubbers and four matches overall. Defending champion Spain will be Israel’s next challenge on Spanish soil.