Croatia tied 1-1 with Argentina after singles matches

Updated: April 7, 2006, 4:14 PM ET
Reuters

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Davis Cup-holder Croatia was level at 1-1 with Argentina after wins for Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian in the opening singles matches of their quarterfinal on Friday.

Ljubicic rallied from two sets down to beat Agustin Calleri 6-7 (9), 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-1, 6-2 before Argentine world No. 3 Nalbandian brushed aside teenager Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.

Cilic was a last minute replacement for Mario Ancic, who was ruled unfit to play after failing to recover from a back injury.

Ljubicic, Croatia's top-ranked player and also their team captain, was staring at defeat after going two sets and 4-1 down in the third set tiebreak before clawing his way back.

"I knew it would be a tough match against Calleri and I had to dig very deep not to put us in a very difficult position on the opening day," Ljubicic told reporters.

"We knew Nalbandian would be too strong for Cilic so I think it's a good result on the opening day with so many things going wrong for us."

Ljubicic broke Calleri to take a 5-3 lead in the first set but it all went wrong for the Croatian after he served a double fault to allow Calleri to break back and then snatch a see-saw tiebreaker 9-7.

Games went with serve in the second set until Calleri broke Ljubicic to take it 7-5, delighting the vociferous Argentina fans who at one point had to be calmed down by security officials after they ignored the umpire's plea for quiet.

Ljubicic, who recovered from abdominal problems just in time for the opening match, needed treatment for a twisted ankle and was on the verge of defeat when he fell 4-1 down in the third set tiebreak.

The world No. 5, though, won five consecutive points before taking it 8-6 to deny Calleri.

The Argentine, who tormented his rival with a barrage of backhand winners and forehands down the line in the opening two sets, has a poor record in five-setters and he began to look weary.

Ljubicic, who served a total of 31 aces, lost only six points in the fourth set on the indoor carpet surface.

The Miami Masters finalist then broke Calleri in the first game of the fifth set and consolidated to seal victory.

Teenager Cilic, ranked 378th, made too many unforced errors in only his second Davis Cup match for Croatia and Nalbandian hardly broke sweat in taking his singles win-loss record in the competition to 9-1.

"It certainly would have been a lot tougher if Ancic had been able to play," said Nalbandian.

"Obviously, we would have loved to be 2-0 ahead because Calleri was so close to winning the opening match but we expected to be tied 1-1 after the opening singles.

"I think Croatia are still the favourites to go through because Ljubicic is playing exceptionally well."

Ancic could also miss Saturday's doubles and his absence would be a big blow for the Croatians as he and Ljubicic have a perfect 6-0 Davis Cup doubles record.

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