LILLE, France — Marin Cilic sealed Croatia’s victory over defending champion France in the Davis Cup final with a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille on Sunday.
Cilic, a former U.S. Open champion, gave Croatia a 3-1 unassailable lead in the best-of-five series on indoor clay in northern France with a ruthless display.
Cilic lived up to his status of team leader this weekend, winning his two matches without dropping a set. He was surrounded by the whole Croatian team on the court and covered his shoulders with the Croatian flag after the country’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, warmly hugged him.
“It’s not every day that you become a world champion,” Cilic said. “For us, it’s a dream come true, for this nation, we are so passionate, you can see the fans. And I feel that in Croatia it’s going to be incredible too.”
Croatia claimed a second title in the team event following its first win in 2005.
The Davis Cup final was played for the last time in its traditional format. Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.
After Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won Saturday’s doubles, the hosts trailed 2-1 and needed to win both reverse singles on the final day to become the first team since 1939 to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a final.
But their hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed.
The seventh-ranked Cilic struggled with his first serve in the opening set yet did not face a single break point.
Pouille, who replaced Jeremy Chardy after France captain Yannick Noah changed his lineup in a bid to force a decisive fifth match, made repeated mistakes on his backhand. Pouille hit a total of 44 unforced errors, compared to Cilic’s 29.
The Frenchman, who wrapped up France’s 10th Davis Cup title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium, managed to stay in contention on the back of his strong serve and some clever drop shots that surprised Cilic, but his Croat rival raised his level in the tiebreaker. Cilic won four straight points to seal the set, including a thunderous forehand pass that left Pouille stranded.
Pouille’s level of play then dropped drastically while Cilic kept up the intensity and broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set. Pouille managed to save four set points in the eight game with a series of good serves before Cilic held his next service game to seal the set with a crosscourt forehand.
Despite the support of the vociferous French fans at the Pierre Mauroy stadium, Pouille appeared powerless in the third set and dropped his serve again in the fifth game after yet another backhand error that sealed his fate. The Frenchman saved two match points at 5-3 but was forced to watch when Cilic unleashed a superb lob that secured another break and the title.
The French tennis federation said teams will not play the final reverse singles match.