Led by Marin Cilic and Borna Coric, Croatia stands as the favorite to conquer the 106th and last real Davis Cup title against France in Lille. The host nation has many troubles in the Federation and among the players, with some of the leading stars being either injured or in a poor connection with the captain or Federation.
Yannick Noah took a gamble on Friday, leaving Lucas Pouille on the bench to go with Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga which turned out to be a shot in the dark, both losing in straight sets against the better-ranked opponents and putting the title holders on a verge of defeat.
Thus, Croatia has become only the fifth country to two singles wins on the first day of the Davis Cup final as an away team and the first since 1954, entering the history books and looking strong to conquer the second Davis Cup title after 2005. Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert have managed to keep France in contention after a hard-fought 6-4 6-4 3-6 7-6 win over Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig in three hours and 38 minutes, reducing the gap to 2-1 and sending the decision onto the remaining Sunday's singles rubbers.
Nonetheless, the Croats are still the favorites, having to win just one match on Sunday and standing as the favorites in both rubbers if Coric and Cilic produce the same level we saw from them on Friday. In addition, history is on the side of the away squad as they won the title every time they would have created a 2-0 lead after the opening singles rubbers! Australia is the only country that has managed to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the Davis Cup final but that happened in 1939 and never again, with chances not being that high for France to repeat that on Sunday.
Back in 1907, the British Isles had hosted Australasia and Norman Brookes and Tony Wilding sent the away team 2-0 up after the opening day before the Brits bounced back to win the doubles match and the third singles, leveling the score at 2-2 and preparing everything for a stellar comeback.
Norman Brookes took care to prevent that, defeating Herbert Roper-Barrett 6-2 6-0 6-3 to secure the title for his country. Five years later, Australasia had hosted the British Isles in Melbourne and the Brits served a cold revenge, with James Parke and Charles Dixon delivering the opening two singles wins to forge a 2-0 lead.
Brookes and Dunlop won the doubles clash for the Aussies and Brookes led them in the fourth tie as well to secure the second point for his country and set up the deciding rubber where Parke toppled Rodney Heath in straight sets to win the title for the Brits.
21 years later, Great Britain had to beat the strong French squad at the Roland Garros on clay and they made the perfect start thanks to Bunny Austin and Fred Perry who clinched the first two rubbers. Borotra and Brugnon fought back for France, winning the doubles match before Henry Cochet delivered the second point against Austin to keep France alive.
In the decider, Fred Perry outplayed Andre Merlin to cross the finish line first and steal the title away from France for the first time in seven years! The USA was the last away team to score opening two wins in the Davis Cup final, as Tony Trabert and Victor Seixas traveled to Sydney for an ultimate clash against Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall.
Unlike in our previous stories, there was no drama attached to this final, with Trabert beating Hoad and Seixas ousting Rosewall to send the USA 2-0 up before the Americans secured the title with a win in the doubles against the same rivals.
Croatia will try to wrap the things up already after the fourth rubber on Sunday and avoid to repeat what had already happened in 1907, 1912 and 1933 when the host nation battled back to 2-2 and it will Marin Cilic who could deliver the second Davis Cup trophy for his country if he beats Jeremy Chardy or Lucas Pouille. Countries who have scored the opening two wins in Davis Cup final as an away team:
1907 - Australasia
1912 - British Isles
1933 - Great Britain
1954 - USA
2018 - Croatia