Let me correct that, it is no longer called Davis Cup, it is now called Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. The Croatians have won their first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title beating Slovakia 3-2.

It’s not that I am being negative but we are going to look at the two matches the Croatians lost because those were the best matches. We’ll start with the second rubber (match), a victory by Dominic Hrbaty (Slovakia) over Mario Ancic (Croatia), and, in the next column, look at the fourth rubber, Hrbaty’s victory over Ivan Ljubicic. The only thing that doesn’t have a sponsor name is each rubber. How about the Rubbermaid rubber and the Goodyear rubber? Trojan is unacceptable because Slovakia and Croatia are Catholic nations.

The only thing that doesn’t have a sponsor name is each rubber. How about the Rubbermaid rubber and the Goodyear rubber? Trojan is unacceptable because Slovakia and Croatia are Catholic nations.

We are in Bratislava, Slovakia at Sibamac Arena National Tennis Center. The Center seats 4100 people, only 100 above the minimum 4000 needed to host a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas match. This will be the first title for whichever country wins. Understandable considering that Croatia, except for the tenth century medieval kingdom of Croatia and the short-lived Independent State of Croatia in World War II, became a nation only in 1991 while Slovakia became a nation in 1993.

Sportswriters love controvery and, luckily, there is some here. The controversy surrounds Karol Beck (Slovakia) who was supposed to have played Ljubicic in the opening match. There is a report that Beck tested positive for a banned substance. The ATP is not allowed to announce a positive test until after a tribunal has taken place. If it turns out that Beck did test positive and he took part in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie, any matches he won would be forfeited. Beck denies that he tested positive and says he is not playing due to a knee injury. Karol Kucera, who never got past the second round in a tournament this year and will retire after this tie, will take his place. An independent doctor is required to validate an injury if a player replacement is made. Beck passed that test.

Kucera was no match for Ljubicic, Kucera’s strokes looked like they were in slow motion relative to his opponent. Croatia took a 1-0 lead with Ljubicic’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win.

There might be only 4100 seats in this arena but every one of them is filled and there are a lot of Croatians here – Slovakia and Croatia are separated only by Hungary. The hall is full of thunder sticks, drum, whistles, bells and horns. When someone wins a point, it sounds like a three-ring circus has come to town. Many Slovakian fans are dressed in shirts with the Slovakian soccer team logo on it. Hopefully they will behave better than soccer fans.

Hrbaty and Ancic both reside in that convenient country of tax-free financial exile, Monaco. As does Ljubicic and even Kucera for that matter. Monaco would have won a number of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas trophies if their tennis refugees were required to play for them.

The first set was a battle of serves. Ancic hit three service winners, a double fault and an ace to even the set at 4-4. This surface is very quick. Hrbaty’s serve isn’t quite as hard, his toss is so high he could drink a beer in the time it takes for the ball to go up and come down, but he served well and dictated play in the few points that had a rally. After the match, when reporters asked Ancic what surprised him most about Hrbaty’s play he replied, simply: “His first serve.”

As Ancic got more frustrated, he hit the ball harder, exactly the wrong thing to do against Hrbaty.

With Hrbaty up 3-2 in the tiebreaker, Ancic played a point that explained why he lost the first set. He hit a second serve then, twenty one strokes later, Hrbaty pulled him wide and hit a winner down the line. Ancic is vulnerable in long rallies and his second serve is short – he won 38% of his second serve points in the first set.

Ancic made a few corrections in the second set: he put more pace on his second serve and attacked by serving and volleying and approaching on Hrbaty’s second serve. But he didn’t attack at critical times when he should have. In the sixth game, Ancic served Hrbaty wide then hit the ball into the middle of the court allowing Hrbaty to get back into the point. Later in that game, Hrbaty hit a forehand winner for a break point and got the break on an Ancic backhand into the net. Ancic lost the set on a double fault – one of the pitfalls of going for too much on the second serve.

In the third set, Ancic hit drop shots to get Hrbaty to the net, not his favorite place, but it didn’t work. As Ancic got more frustrated, he hit the ball harder, exactly the wrong thing to do against Hrbaty. He should have fed him slices because Hrbaty doesn’t generate a lot of power by himself. Still, Ancic managed to stay in the set and, on the last two points in the tiebreaker, corrected his previous mistake. This time he served Hrbaty wide and hit winners to the open court to win the set.

Ancic missed another opportunity to attack in the fourth set. Hrbaty was down 0-30 on his serve yet Ancic stayed at the baseline. It cost him. In the next game, Hrbaty hit a running forehand down the line past a diving Ancic to win the point and break Ancic. As he had during the entire match, Hrbaty held serve to win the fourth set and the match, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4.

Ancic is young, he’s only twenty-one, and still learning the strategical aspects of tennis. After the loss to Hrbaty, he still had not won a critical singles match in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play. In the fifth rubber, Ancic corrected that. He defeated number 139 ranked Michal Mertinak – who actually does live in Bratislava – to win the title for Croatia.

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