While not an entirely shocking loss, this will definitely be a big disappointment for Captain Courier and Team USA, who got off to a great start on home soil taking a commanding 2-0 lead against Croatia on Friday.
The highlight of the first day came when American Jack Sock (playing his first home rubber) came back from a 0-2 set deficit to beat Croatian number 1 Marin Cilic in five sets.
This was the second time in as many weeks Cilic had surrendered at 2-0 lead (he lost in the quarterfinal of Wimbledon to Roger Federer in similar fashion), and after John Isner (USA) took out Borna Coric in straight sets in his match, all the momentum was with the US.
A lot of fans were predicting (hoping?) that USA could wrap things up on Saturday with a win by doubles greats and Davis Cup stalwarts Bob and Mike Bryan. But a determined Cilic substituted for Marin Draganja, and he and Ivan Dodig played superbly to defeat the Bryans 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
The US still seemed well positioned, with many thinking that even if Isner couldn’t overcome Cilic, if it came to a fifth and decisive rubber, Jack Sock would have no problem beating Borna Coric, as he defeated him easily in their last meeting at the French Open in 2015.
I was able to catch a bit of the pre-show on Tennis Channel before Isner and Cilic took the court and the confidence was definitely brimming from the American commentators. Justin Gimelstob (formerly Isner’s coach) even said of the Sock/Coric matchup, “I don’t like Sock in this match up. I love him.”
Things started off somewhat promising for the US. Isner was serving like a beast in the first set, often holding Cilic to love. While Isner holding serve is nothing new, it was an especially impressive display, even for him.
Cilic on the other hand looked a little out of sorts. You thought maybe his confidence was lacking from the previous two five set losses, and Isner managed to make inroads in most of Cilic’s service games, even creating a few break points. Though he never managed to convert any.
Then, like so often has happened with Isner this year, after playing a really solid set of tennis (he was absolutely the better player in the first set) he faltered in the tiebreak.
After that, Cilic was energized, Isner was deflated, and Cilic went on to win easily 7-6 (11-9), 6-3, 6-4.
Depressing for US fans, sure, but not shocking. Before their matchup today Cilic was 5-0 against Isner, and even when lacking in confidence Cilic remains the slightly better player, overall.
The fifth and final rubber was a slightly different story. Both on paper and in terms of skill and experience, Jack Sock is the better player, and probably, definitely should’ve won the match. And if it was a regular tournament, I bet he would have. But it wasn’t.
He was playing a deciding Davis Cup rubber, in his home country, after probably thinking his win on Friday made it so he would never have to be in this position. Sock was clearly nervous and shaky, and visibly frustrated with his play. The margins between Sock and Coric are not enough to where Sock could get away with playing an uneven match, and it ended up costing him.
Coric on the other hand was steady, and rejuvenated after his team had fought from the brink to even the score. He seemed the calmer and more positive player. Sock played some incredibly athletic and impressive points, but he wasn’t able to sustain any kind of momentum throughout the match, and seemed to face break points in practically every service game he had.
In the end Coric took the match in four sets, and with it a ticket to the Davis Cup semifinals, making it only the second time since 1981 that the US lost a Davis Cup tie after being up 2-0.
So, that is unfortunately it for the American men this year. I think our guys gave it a good effort. They had a great Friday, but the Bryans are 38 and played two stellar opponents during their doubles match. Isner lost to a higher ranked player he had never beaten, and Sock can be excused for being overcome by the pressure of having to win it all for his country.
For my part, I’ll be watching to see if Andy Murray decides to play in the semifinal against Argentina, and gearing up for another year of #BackingTheBrits.