Reigning Davis Cup champions Croatia host Argentina from Friday in the competition’s quarter-final.
Croatia’s top-player and Davis captain, world No.5 Ivan Ljubicic, last week beat both of Argentina’s two singles players, Agustín Calleri and David Nalbandian, in the Nasdaq-100 championship in Key Biscayne. First he defeated Calleri, who is the world’s No.65, 7-6, 6-3 in the quarter-finals and then went on to smash Nalbandian 6-1, 6-2 in the semis.
But Ljubicic – who holds the record for most Davis wins in a year, when he won 11 times en route to the title – suffered a slight abdominal injury in the final he lost to Roger Federer in Key Biscayne. Because of the injury he has not been able to practice normally during the week.
Argentina’s chance of winning in Zagreb does not lie solely in Ljubicic’s physique. The fast indoor surface may also boost Nalbandian’s form since the world No3, is the only player that captain Alberto Mancini can pick who prefers fast courts over clay.
As Ljubicic himself has underlined, when Nalbandian won the Tennis Master Cup in Shanghai last year, the victory was on the same Taraflex surface.
Argentina’s hopes are boosted by the memory of the quarter-final win last year against Australia in Melbourne. The tie was played on grass and Nalbandian basically won it single-handedly with singles wins against Wayne Arthurs and Lleyton Hewitt and a doubles triumph alongside Mariano Puerta.
Last week Nalbandian in Key Biscayne beat Croatia’s No2 player, Mario Ancic, with a solid 6-2, 6-2. Ancic may have to rapidly improve if Croatia is to stop Nalbandian from spearheading an upset for a second year running, with the two playing the second match of the tie on Friday.
In last year’s final Ljubcic lost the opening game of the tie against Slovakia. Ancic went on to win the second and fifth game of the tie to snatch the 3-2 victory.