x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Serbia seal semi-final berth

Djokovic and Tipsarevic victories help Balkans to their first last-four appearance beating Croatia in front of a hostile crowd.

Novak Djokovic, centre, and the rest of his team join in the celebrations after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Croatia's Marin Cilic.
Novak Djokovic, centre, and the rest of his team join in the celebrations after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Croatia's Marin Cilic.

Novak Djokovic called it the sweetest victory of his career as his 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Croatia's Marin Cilic in the face of a partisan crowd in Split saw Serbia advance to the semi-finals of the Davis Cup for the first time. The victory gave Serbia an unassailable 3-1 lead over their neighbours, which became 4-1 when Janko Tipsarevic beat Antonio Veic.

Serbia will host the Czech Republic, who beat 4-1 Chile in yesterday's other game, in the last four in September. Djokovic had to brave the fiery Croatian crowd which hurled ethnic insults at him during a match that lasted 2hrs 24mins. This was Djokovic's fifth consecutive victory over Cilic, the world No 13. The players exchanged early breaks in a tense third set, but then Cilic lost two of his service games. Djokovic sealed the victory with a drop shot which Cilic could not reach.

"This is not just an individual win, but a victory for my country," Djokovic said. "Serbia is writing history by reaching the semi-finals. Beating Croatia in this kind of heated atmosphere is really something big." Cilic had 59 unforced errors, compared to Djokovic's 30, and lost eight service games. The two former Yugoslav republics, which fought a war in the 1990s, had never met in the Davis Cup. Croatia won the competition in 2005 and played in last year's semi-finals. The Croatia team were without their leading players, Ivo Karlovic and Mario Ancic.

Elsewhere, David Nalbandian beat Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 yesterday to give Argentina a 3-2 victory over Russia and a place in the semi-finals versus France. Russia's Nikolay Davydenko had earlier rallied to beat Eduardo Schwank 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in the first reverse singles to make it 2-2 in the five-match series. Argentina had been leading 2-1 thanks to a win in the doubles on Saturday, after the two teams had shared Friday's opening singles.

Nalbandian was in convincing form throughout the decisive fifth match of the quarter-final contest on hardcourt and was never broken by Youzhny. Argentina's victory in Moscow ended Russia's 17-tie winning streak at home since losing to the United States in the 1995 final. Argentina's semi-final verses France will be played from September 17 to 19. Argentina came to Moscow without the injured Juan Martin del Potro, who is the country's No 1, and Juan Monaco, but Nalbandian, who missed much of last season through injury and has been sidelined with a hamstring problem since April, won both his matches in straight sets.

France, meanwhile, completed a 5-0 rout of defending champions Spain as Julien Benneteau and Gilles Simon won their matches against Feliciano Lopez and Nicolas Almagro in straight sets. The French achieved their first victory over the Spaniards, missing world No 1 Rafael Nadal, since 1923. * AP