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Ljubicic, Ancic help Croatia take 2-1 lead over Slovakia

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- If his younger teammates can
deliver, Goran Ivanisevic will lift the Davis Cup trophy Sunday and
take it home to Croatia for the first time.
Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic beat Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty and
Michal Mertinak 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (5) Saturday, giving Croatia a
2-1 lead in the best-of-five series between two first-time
finalists.

Croatia needs to win one of Sunday's reverse singles -- Ljubicic
meets Hrbaty and Ancic plays Karol Kucera -- to clinch the title.
"It's definitely the most important match of my life, no
question about that,'' Ljubicic said. "I have a little advantage
because I've had a lot of these pressure matches.''
Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion, came out of
retirement for the final, but captain Nikki Pilic did not select
him for either the singles or the doubles, choosing to go with his
younger players.
With their win, Ljubicic and Ancic remain undefeated in Davis
Cup doubles play this year.
Unless Pilic has a very sudden and unexpected change of heart
Sunday, which he is allowed to do under the rules, Ivanisevic will
be cheering his teammates from the sideline again.
Ivanisevic could start celebrating early if Ljubicic clinches
Croatia's victory in the first match Sunday.
Croatian fans, roughly matching the number of Slovak supporters
in the 4,000 capacity Sibamac Arena, were in a jolly mood Saturday,
breaking into song after their team took the doubles.
Croatia was twice down a break in the first set and Slovakia
served for the set, but the Croats came back on Ancic's good return
off a Mertinak serve. Ljubicic then sealed the set with an ace in
the tiebreaker.
"We were a bit nervous at the start and didn't play too well,
but we settled in the second and came back strong,'' Ljubicic said.
"I think we played one of our best Davis Cup doubles matches.''
Hrbaty dropped his serve twice in the second and that proved to
be the difference.
Ancic wasted one match point in the third, but then put pressure
on Hrbaty, who hit a forehand into the net to leave his team
trailing 2-1.
"You can put it down to experience, which cannot be bought, it
comes naturally,'' Ljubicic said. "We played like this all season,
winning a rubber each day. I hope everything will be positive
tomorrow.
"I have a 5-0 record over Hrbaty. Tomorrow is the greatest day
of our tennis careers.''
Ancic, 1-4 in Davis Cup singles this year, has never played
Kucera. The 31-year-old Slovak veteran plans to retire after the
weekend. He's played only nine matches this year, losing five.
"It is by no means over yet,'' Ancic said. "We have an
enormous day ahead of us.''
Ljubicic and Ancic topped the No. 1-ranked American twins Bob
and Mike Bryan to help Croatia beat the United States in the first
round of the World Group and launch the country's march toward the
final.
Ljubicic moved within one victory of tying John McEnroe's 1982
record of 12 Davis Cup wins in a single year -- eight singles and
four doubles.
All 11 of his victories have been in matches played with the
overall result still at stake -- a record since the World Group
format was created in 1981.
Three of McEnroe's victories were in dead rubbers when the
result had already been decided.
If Croatia takes the title, Pilic will become the first captain
to win the trophy for different nations. He led Germany to Davis
Cup titles in 1988, 1989 and 1993.