Former US Open champion Marin Cilic will spearhead the Croatian Davis Cup team when they host India for the World Group qualifier in Zagreb next week. The two-time champions announced a five-man squad on Wednesday, listing the former world no. 3 along with inexperienced Borna Gojo and Davis Cup debutant Nino Serdarusic. Non-playing captain Vedran Martic – for whom this will be the first tie in charge – has also named a strong doubles team with world no. 10 Ivan Dodig pairing up with world no. 16 Mate Pavic.
The only big name missing from the Croatian squad is current world no. 28 Borna Coric. Nonetheless, the European side will be a tricky opponent for the Indians.
“This is a good opportunity for us. Coric won’t be there but Cilic will, it’s better to play one than both,” says India Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali. “We still need to make sure we get at least one point on the first day to ease some pressure on the doubles team. The doubles rubber will also be tough. If that goes well, and if Cilic decides to play the fourth rubber, then in the decider we will have Croatia’s no. 2 versus our no. 2, and anything can happen there.”
The last time Cilic, now ranked 36, played a Davis Cup tie was in the 2018 final against France when he won the third singles match to give his team a 3-1 triumph and a second title in the competition. In 2019 though, he struggled with injuries and form. His absence made way for 21-year-old Gojo in the team.
The world no. 276 made his debut in the competition at the World Group Finals last year, but lost both his matches – albeit to then world no. 23 Andrey Rublev and former world no. 1 Rafael Nadal. But with Cilic back in the fold, the tie becomes all the more difficult for the Indians.
In comparison, the Indians have named a full squad. World no. 127 Sumit Nagal will lead the away team along with singles players Prajnesh Gunneswaran (134) and Ramkumar Ramanathan (180). The travelling contingent also includes three doubles specialists in Rohan Bopanna (38), Divij Sharan (57), and 46-year-old Leander Paes (114), who is playing his last season as a professional. The 18-time Grand Slam champion’s (eight in men’s doubles and 10 in the mixed event) selection in the team was based solely on his experience, and it is likely that he will be paired with Bopanna for the lone doubles rubber.
In that match, they will be playing the Dodig-Pavic duo – who have won seven Grand Slam titles between them. Interestingly, at the ongoing ATP 500 event in Dubai, Paes got the better of Dodig in a first-round doubles match.
But on the indoor hard court at the Dom Sportova, where India will get a seventh shot at making the World Group in as many years, with the towering Cilic in the opposition, they will need much more than bragging rights in doubles.
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