Game, set, match – Croatia: How the two famous “salad bowls“ were won

Game, set, match – Croatia: How the two famous “salad bowls“ were won

Goran Ivanišević’s incredible Wimbledon odyssey in 2001, when he became the first player in history to win the legendary grass-court tournament as a wildcard, Iva Majoli’s Parisian dream week in 1997 when she became a Roland Garros laureate, Marin Čilić living the Croatian dream in America in 2014 after claiming the US Open title, 10 Grand Slam doubles titles won by Mirjana Lučić-Baroni, Ivan Dodig, Mate Pavić, Dragutin Mitić and Nikola Pilić as well as an array of aces dished out by the world’s best server Ivo Karlović are just a few Croatian tennis vignettes that will bring tears of joy to the eyes of every sports fan.

 

But in addition to having players win singles and doubles titles, Croatia is also just one of only ten countries to have won the world’s oldest tennis tournament for national teams – the Davis Cup – on at least two occasions.

Davis Cup
Mario Ćužić

The land of stunning beaches, turquoise crystal-clear sea, perennially verdant forests and world-class cuisine is a veritable tennis powerhouse. Croatia and the fuzzy little yellow ball have had a special bond since the late 19th century, when the tradition of playing tennis was inaugurated on the tennis courts in Zagreb, Osijek, Karlovac, Gospić, Zadar and Split. Several decades later, the world of the “white sport” was dominated by the four Croatian tennis musketeers: Franjo Punčec, Josip Palada, Franjo Kukuljević and Dragutin Mitić. They were as deft with their racquets as D'Artagnan, Aramis, Porthos and Athos were at brandishing their swords, as evidenced by reaching the finals of the Davis Cup Europe Zone four times in 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1946.

 

The true successors to these tennis artists emerged in the early 21st century.

Davis Cup
Paul Zimmer

The 94th Davis Cup in 2005 got off to a sensational start for Croatia. The away win against the United States, who were the favourites in this World Group matchup, shocked the sporting world, while the chequered tennis poetry continued in the two home matchups in Split, the jewel of the Mediterranean. Despite the identical start to both matchups, with Romania and Russia taking the lead, the Croatian national team swiftly crushed any dreams of winning the away teams might have had with the aid of a delirious crowd at the cult Gripe Sports Hall.

 

After Ivan Ljubičić defeated Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko in three straight sets in the volcanic atmosphere of Split, Croatia progressed to the final of the Davis Cup for the first time in its history. The path to the tennis Mount Olympus led through Slovakia. During the three matchdays in Bratislava, the national team comprising Mario Ančić, Ivan Ljubičić, Goran Ivanišević, Ivo Karlović and team captain Nikola Pilić were experiencing a genuine sports thriller.

 

Croatia took a 1:0 lead, with Slovakia tying at 1:1, after which Croatia reclaimed the lead at 2:1, with the Slovaks equalising yet again at 2:2. There was to be a fifth match in this dramatic tennis clash. In the decisive match against Michal Mertiňák, Mario Ančić remained sturdy as the walls of Dubrovnik and the celebration could commence. The Croats got their hands on the famous Davis Cup trophy, dubbed the “salad bowl”, for the first time ever.

Davis Cup
Mario Ćužić

It had taken another 11 years for the opportunity to win the trophy arise again, but Argentina disappointed the numerous Croatian fans in the finals played at the Zagreb Arena in 2016, however 2018 was the year of Croatia once again. The team travelled to Osijek and Slavonia to play their home matches against Canada, Kazakhstan and the United States, the Baroque city of Varaždin afterwards and ultimately the ancient city of Zadar, where the national team reached its third Davis Cup Finals.

Davis Cup
Mario Ćužić

After a stellar 3:1 victory against France in Lille, the “salad bowl” was adorned with chequers once again. Marin Čilić, Borna Ćorić, Ivan Dodig, Mate Pavić and team captain Željko Krajan will go down in history as the last team to win the Davis Cup in its original format.

Davis Cup
Mario Ćužić

Game, set, match – Croatia!