In what should have been one of the most entertaining clashes of the second day at the ATP Cup, Croatia defeated Austria 3-0 in Sydney for the best possible start of the competition. Struggling Marin Cilic prevailed against Dennis Novak and it was Dominic Thiem who had to deliver the first point for Austria ahead of the deciding doubles clash.
Instead of that, world no. 4 lost to Borna Coric in three sets to leave Austria empty-handed on the ATP Cup debut. Finishing the season on the lowest ranking position since 2007, Marin had to deal with injuries and lack of form in 2019, hoping for a better run in the new season and opening it with a tight 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Dennis Novak in two hours and 26 minutes.
Marin fired 15 aces and fended off both break points he faced, mounting the pressure on Dennis who made a solid start before losing serve once in sets two and three to hand the win to the Croat. Serving at 4-5 in the first set, the Austrian saved a set point and grabbed the breaker 704 with two mini-breaks, moving closer to the finish line and the first ATP win since the Davis Cup tie against Finland in September.
Raising his level, Marin barely lost a point on serve in set number two, waiting for a chance on the return and earning a break at 4-4 to claim 12 of the last 13 points and grab the set 6-4, becoming the favorite ahead of the decider.
There, Cilic moved in front with a break of serve in game seven, fending off a break chance while serving for the win at 5-4 and seizing the third match point to push Croatia in front. In the battle of the higher-ranked players, Borna Coric earned the first top-10 triumph since Shanghai 2018, defeating Dominic Thiem 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in two hours and 42 minutes to wrap up the tie for Croatia before the doubles match.
After the last ball, only one point separated the rivals (100-99 for Borna) and they were pushing each other to the limits, with four breaks for Dominic from 12 chances and three breaks on Borna's tally from nine opportunities.
Thiem had better numbers behind the first serve but it was the second that let him down, standing way behind the baseline at some moments and not attacking enough. The opening set lasted for 69 minutes and it was Coric who could have clinched it much earlier after leading 5-3.
Dominic cracked a forehand down the line winner to save a set point, breaking back in game ten before Borna recovered to take the tie break 7-4 with a forehand winner at the net. Finding the range on serve in set number two, Thiem controlled the pace and opened the set with a break at 15, delivering another one in game seven when Coric sent a backhand long and sealing the set with a hold at love a few minutes later for a 6-2 and much better position ahead of the decider.
There, the Croat gained the advantage in the fourth game following a forehand error from the Austrian who had a chance to pull it back in games seven and nine. Facing six break points overall, Borna endured all the obstacles (repelling the last three at 5-3 with winners) to seal the deal and propel Croatia over the top, scoring one of the most significant wins in the last 15 months and hoping for more of the same in the rest of the event.