Croatia pounce on Nadal, Alcaraz absence as Spain collapse in Davis Cup

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Málaga (Spain) (AFP) – Marin Cilic led Croatia to the Davis Cup semi-finals on Wednesday, knocking out six-time champions Spain, who were missing Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal, the two best players in the world.

World number 17 Cilic, a former US Open champion, fought back to defeat 13th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) as Croatia booked a clash in semi-final against Australia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Borna Coric launched the 2005 and 2018 champions by beating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

Cilic, 34, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2006, dropped the first set, gave up a break in the decider and was 1/4 into the tiebreaker before triumphing after three hours and 13 minutes in the field.

His 20 aces helped mitigate the damage caused by 15 double faults as the home crowd of 10,000 at the Palacio de Deportes were stunned by silence from Croatia who were runners-up to Russia in the 2021 final.

“It was an amazing battle,” Cilic said.

However, he admitted that the absence of US Open champion Alcaraz and 22-time Grand Slam winner Nadal played into the hands of Croatia who had lost their previous three Davis Cup meetings with Spain. .

“It would be very different. Rafa has been a leader of the team throughout his career. He is one of the best Davis Cup players of all time.

“Carlos, fantastic season for him. Too bad he got injured.”

Spain captain Sergi Bruguera lamented his side’s exit.

“I think luck had a bit of an influence, and Cilic had a bit more today,” he insisted.

Coric, the world No. 26, fired 14 aces past his 21st-ranked rival whom he had already defeated en route to the Cincinnati Masters title this summer.

Bautista Agut had enjoyed a seven-game Davis Cup winning streak, a streak dating back to 2019.

“I just think in general I was playing very smart. When I needed to attack, I attacked. When I needed to defend, I was defensive,” Coric said.

“I also mixed up the pace, which is very important against him. I was just very happy with my game, to be honest.”

Protest: Security personnel arrest environmental activists during quarter-final match between Croatia and Spain Thomas CoexAFP

Play was briefly interrupted when two environmental protesters rushed onto the pitch and attempted to tie themselves to the net before being knocked to the ground and ejected from the arena by security personnel.

The duo was a member of the group “Futuro Végétal” which calls for “the adoption of an agri-food system based on vegetables”.

“We interrupted the Davis Cup to demand urgent changes in the food system,” the organization explained on its Twitter account.

In Thursday’s final quarter-finals, 32-time Davis Cup champions USA take on Italy while Germany take on Canada.