Former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic led Croatia into the Davis Cup semifinals after defeating 13th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(5) here on Wednesday.
Earlier, Borna Coric had set the 2005 and 2018 champions on their way, defeating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-6(4).
Cilic was two points from defeat at 5-6, 0-30 in the deciding set and then 1-4 down in the final set tiebreak, only to find his very best tennis at the crucial moment, silencing the near-capacity vocal crowd inside the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena.
This was the first time that Croatia had been able to field both Coric and Cilic in the same Davis Cup line-up since they won the event back in 2018.
With the team at full strength, they took advantage of the hosts being without Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal, and the victory marks the first time in four attempts that Croatia have beaten Spain in the Davis Cup.
More than 9,000 fans created a lively atmosphere in support of the hosts throughout the tie. But Croatia are familiar with such surroundings — they won the Davis Cup in Lille against France back in 2018 — and with their own brass band, they were well supported here too.
It made for an enthralling contest between the only two nations at this year’s finals with players who have won this competition before.
In the opening match, Coric went unbroken against Bautista and he credited his serve for laying the foundation of such a strong performance.
Cilic has claimed that things would have been different if Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz had appeared in Spain’s Davis Cup Finals squad after the Croats defeated the Spanish team on home soil.
Spain was left without their top two players for the Davis Cup Finals this week after Nadal opted out of competing in the team tournament this year while Alcaraz got injured at the recent Paris Masters, forcing him to end his season early. And it cost the team, as they lost their opening match at the Finals in Malaga, going out to Croatia in the quarterfinal.