LILLE, France — After an agonizing defeat in Croatia’s previous Davis Cup final, there was no letdown for Marin Cilic this time.
Cilic was leading by two sets against Juan Martín del Potro two years ago, with host Croatia leading Argentina by 2-1 on the final day, when his game collapsed, and Argentina fought back and ultimately won the final.
This weekend in northern France, Cilic did not give even a glimmer of hope to his French opponents that they could stage a comeback of their own.
On the indoor clay court set up inside the Lille soccer stadium and in front of a hostile crowd, Cilic was ruthless and composed. His clinical display on Sunday secured a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille to give Croatia a 3-1 victory over France, the defending champion, in the best-of-five series. Both teams agreed not to play the final match.
Though Cilic, a former United States Open champion, said his loss to del Potro had not been a distraction, he was relieved to finally add the Davis Cup to his list of trophies.
“I was always sleeping well, so no problem, but I’m happy that I played so well this weekend,” the 30-year-old Cilic said.
While Argentina was able to fight back, the French did not have the weapons required. The hosts won the doubles but were thrashed in straight sets in the three singles matches played against Cilic and Borna Coric.
“Look at the statistics from Borna and I — in three matches we did not lose a serve — it says much about our level and how well we played,” said Cilic, who finally tasted team success in the event 12 years after his debut. “We were both in a great form at the right time.”
Cilic lived up to his status of team leader. After beating Pouille, he was surrounded by the Croatian team on the court and his shoulders were covered with the Croatian flag. 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 won the Davis Cup for a second time, after its victory in 2005, and denied France an 11th crown. This was the last time in the 118-year-old history of the competition that the final was played in a best-of-five matches format and over a three-day weekend. Starting next year, the title will be decided in a season-ending 18-team tournament at a neutral site.
The International Tennis Federation believes this format, with matches played in best-of-three sets, will be more attractive to elite players who often decline to compete for their countries because of a crowded schedule.
The French tennis federation supported the change. The country’s players and captain, however, did not. “Last year, I was crying of joy; this year I was crying because I was sad,” Pouille said after the loss. “I’m not going to change my mind about the new format. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to play in the Davis Cup anymore. That was the last time.”
France’s captain, Yannick Noah, who will be replaced by Amélie Mauresmo, also strongly opposes the overhaul. “It will never be the same, it’s going to be something else,” said Noah, who guided France to three titles. “I really hope this is not going to be called the Davis Cup. Playing two sets is not the Davis Cup. They are lying.”