Croa­tia and Ar­gentina tied at 1-1

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

In a bat­tle of big servers, Ar­gentina's Juan Martin Del Potro beat Croa­tia's Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 67 (6), 6-3, 7-5 yes­ter­day to leave the two teams tied at 1-1 fol­low­ing the open­ing sin­gles matches in the Davis Cup fi­nal.

Del Potro, the 2009 US Open cham­pion who is cap­ping a come­back af­ter two in­jury-hit years, made the cru­cial break in the 11th game of the fourth set.

Karlovic, who at 37 be­came the old­est man to play sin­gles in a Davis Cup fi­nal in nearly a cen­tury, served 35 aces while Del Potro had 15.

Dou­bles are played Satur­day while re­verse sin­gles are sched­uled Sun­day.

Ar­gentina is the only na­tion in the Davis Cup's 116-year his­tory to have reached four fi­nals with­out win­ning the ti­tle. Croa­tia is tar­get­ing its sec­ond ti­tle af­ter beat­ing Slo­vakia in the fi­nal in 2005.

Croa­tia won the open­ing sin­gles rub­ber af­ter Marin Cilic strug­gled past Ar­gentina's Fed­erico Del­bo­nis 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 6-2.

Cilic, the 2014 US Open cham­pion, looked like cruis­ing to the ex­pected easy vic­tory un­til Del­bo­nis broke the Croat twice in the third set, which ended on a Cilic dou­ble fault.

"I strug­gled on my re­turn," said Cilic, the high­est-ranked player in the fi­nal at 6th po­si­tion. "His (high) toss on his serve is a bit spe­cific and it gave me prob­lems."

"I never said the match would be easy. Af­ter all, this is the fi­nal," Cilic said.

Del­bo­nis started the fourth set 3-0 with a dou­ble break, and Cilic con­ceded the set on serve by net­ting an easy smash.

But af­ter a bath­room beak, Cilic came back re­newed and broke Del­bo­nis to start the fifth set on the in­door hard court at Arena Za­greb. Cilic sud­denly re­dis­cov­ered his serv­ing groove, and didn't give Del­bo­nis a chance.

"I took a short break, talked to the coach," Cilic said. "I was de­ter­mined to start play­ing bet­ter."

Cilic broke again in the sev­enth game, and served out af­ter 3 1/2 hours, two hours longer than most ex­pected.

Cilic served 17 aces in the match watched by some 12,000 fans, in­clud­ing thou­sands of Ar­gen­tini­ans who out­shouted the home sup­port­ers. Among them was for­mer Ar­gen­tine foot­ball star Diego Maradona.

"His serve was the key," Del­bo­nis said. "In the first two sets, he was serv­ing un­be­liev­ably. When I started mak­ing some re­turns, things changed."

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