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Mag By Craig Gabriel

CROATIA WIN LAST DAVIS CUP FINAL IN PRESENT FORMAT
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CROATIA WIN LAST DAVIS CUP FINAL IN PRESENT FORMAT

More people have climbed Mount Everest than nations which have come back from a 0-2 deficit in the Davis Cup final by BNP Paribas, which has just been one. So, the task for Yannick Noah's French side was played against Croatia in Lille as the last Final Davis Cup was played in the present format.

After the first two days singles Croatia was up 2-0 with wins to Borna Coric and Marin Cilic over Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga respectively, both in straight sets. France Pierre Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut won the double rubber in four sets Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic.

But despite the deafening wall of noise at the Stade Pierre Mauroy creating an amazing atmosphere, the challenge to defend the title they won last year at the same venue was too great for France. The French team could not give their captain Yannick Noah a glorious send-off at the end of his third and final commitment to the French Captain (Amelie Mauresmo takes over in 2019).

Mr. Cilic played in the first and second round of the match when he beat Lucas Pouille who replaced him in the first place of the match. Mr. Yannick Noah remembers his responsibility in the past.

It was not the case this time as Marin Cilic won 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. He did not drop serve once the entire weekend and this culminated a big year for him that saw him reach the Australian Open final in January, get married middle of the year, win his 18th career title, be ranked a career high of three, to now being part of the Champion Nation in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.

This is Croatia’s second title in the competition and the first since 2005.

“It’s not every day that you become a world champion,” Mr. Cilic said. “For us it’s a dream come true. We are so passionate, you can see the fans are enjoying themselves. I feel that in Croatia it’s going to be incredible too.

“I thought Lucas started well in the first set and just a single point made the difference. After that I played better and served better. I’m extremely proud of my performance. The three matches Borna and I played, we didn’t lose our serve once and that shows how well we played and the level we produced. We were both in great form at the right time.”

The last point of the match, match point three, was a deft lob from Mr. Cilic that left Mr. Pouille, who was mid-court when the stroke was played, in a hapless position. When it landed in Marin raised his arms in victory as the rest of the Croatian team invaded the clay court swamping their player. This was such a far cry from 2016 in Zagreb when Croatia lost to Argentina in the final.

“This is the one of the best teams we ever had, it’s like a dream team,” Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan said. “After seven years on the bench it’s an honour for me to be here. My singles players not only didn’t lose a set, they didn’t lose serve in three matches which is an unbelievable achievement and shows you the quality that we produced.”

Historically Croatia is the last nation to win the Cup in its traditional full home and away format. 

In 2019 the whole face of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas changes. The opening round of ties in February straight after the Australian Open will be the only round with home and away and after that there will be no more Davis Cup ties till November when the new format of 18 nations in one city, Madrid for the first two years, will begin.

The decision on the change was passed on to the ITF's Annual General Meeting in August and it has been very controversial, this new format needs to be given a chance to work. Tradition does not happen overnight, and a determination of its international success can not be expected in its first year; it will have to build up. Then we will see.

For now, though, Croatia is basking in the glory of their second championship and they will be able to relish that position for a full twelve months. That was the one thing a champion nation had at risk of not having success after winning the Cup in the past. As a result, that euphoria of winning would have been soon lost.