Argentina completed an improbable comeback to claim its first Davis Cup title, storming back from the brink of elimination to defeat Croatia on Sunday. Argentina was one set from defeat in the fourth rubber, with Marin Cilic leading Juan Martin del Potro two sets to love, and they would mount a historic rally to lift the trophy. Del Potro turned in his first career two-set comeback 6-7(4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3, followed by a clutch 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win for Federico Delbonis over Ivo Karlovic.
Argentina is the eighth nation to rally from 1-2 down and first since Serbia completed the comeback in 2010. Having captured road ties against Poland, Italy, Great Britain and now Croatia, they are just the second country to win the title with four wins away from home.
“We played with our heart and tried to do the best,” said Delbonis. “This is amazing.”
Led by captain Daniel Orsanic, Argentina silenced a partisan Arena Zagreb crowd. Del Potro, the Comeback Player of the Year in the 2016 ATP World Tour Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, joined Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Cilic as the only players with at least six Top 10 wins this year.
“We did what we had to do,” said Orsanic. “We could have lost, but the guys were amazing today. Juan Martin won an incredible match and Federico played the best match of his life. I dreamed for this so many times. I think tennis is very traditional at home and we deserve it.”
Cilic struck first blood in Sunday’s fourth rubber, breaking to love in the second game and reeling off 12 of the first 14 points to surge ahead 3-0. Del Potro would later break back for 4-4, but his Croatian opponent was too strong in the eventual tie-break, taking it 7-4.
Cilic looked to be in cruise control after snatching the second set 6-2 and denying a pair of break chances early in the third with consecutive clutch aces. The shot of the match came in the opening game of the third set, when Del Potro struck an improbable baseline-to-baseline tweener lob. They would remain on serve until the 12th game, when Del Potro surged to a 0/40 lead. Cilic turned aside the first two set points, but a lunging backhand volley winner would give the Argentine the third.
Another clutch late break leveled the match at two sets apiece, as Del Potro grabbed the fourth 6-4 and he would overcome a quick break to open the decider, reeling off six of the last eight games to complete the improbable comeback. He sealed the win on his first match point when Cilic netted a backhand return, extending his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead to 9-2.
“It’s tough for me to speak, but I did my best and this is amazing,” said an emotional Del Potro, who overcame 34 aces to prevail after four hours and 53 minutes.
While it was the first two-set comeback in Del Potro’s career, it marked the third time Cilic had relinquished a two-set lead in 2016 alone. He had fallen to Jack Sock in Davis Cup play and to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Delbonis, meanwhile, overturned an 3-9 record in tour-level matches on indoor hard courts. In stunning fashion, he broke Karlovic’s serve four times, limiting the big-serving Croatian to 14 aces and just 67 per cent first serve points won. He captured the first live fifth rubber in the Davis Cup Final since 2012 and ’13, when Radeck Stepanek won consecutive live deciders against Spain and Serbia, respectively.
Following four final defeats – in 1981, 2006, 2008 and 2011 – it was a dramatic first title for Argentina. Croatia was bidding for its second crown after prevailing in 2005.