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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, September 15, 2018

 
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Ryan Harrison and Mike Bryan squeezed out a dramatic four hour, 43-minute victory over Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic to keep flickering American hope alive in the Davis Cup semifinal. 

Photo credit: @Davis Cup

Grand Slam champions dug out dirt defiance to keep American Davis Cup hopes alive and flickering.

Ryan Harrison threaded the needle with a forehand return down the middle that split a confused Croatian side sewing up a dramatic 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5) doubles victory over Croatia's Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic and staving off American elimination in the Davis Cup semifinal on the red clay of Zadar, Croatia.

Watch: France Sweeps Into Second Straight Davis Cup Final

This pulsating four hour, 43-minute thriller was the longest U.S. doubles match since the inception of the tie break in Davis Cup competition.

And when it was over Harrison delivered a Bryan brothers tribute chest-bumping 40-year-old partner Mike Bryan in celebration of a landing a wild, determined and essential win.


Empowered by successive runs to the Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles, Mike Bryan was a daring and decisive presence at net in a triumphant Davis Cup return. This was Mike Bryan's first Davis Cup win with a partner other than his brother in six years.

Back in 2012, Mike Bryan and Mardy Fish defeated the formidable Swiss pairing of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka en route to a U.S. sweep of the Swiss.

It was Mike Bryan's first Davis Cup match since he partnered twin brother Bob Bryan in a four-set loss to Dodig and Marin Cilic in the 2016 quarterfinals in Portland.

That crucial doubles tie propelled Croatia to comeback from an 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 triumph.

Cilic will try to seal Croatia's second trip to the final in the last three years in tomorrow's opening reverse singles.

The 2014 US Open champion is slated to face Steve Johnson, though U.S. captain Jim Courier could opt to start Sam Querrey instead.

Cilic permitted just nine games sweeping Johnson out of Roland Garros in May.

The 2017 Wimbledon finalist is 5-0 vs. Johnson, winning 12 of 13 sets pounding away at the former all-American's weaker backhand wing.

Cilic has swept all six meetings with Querrey with five of those encounters on grass, including a four-set win in the 2017 Wimbledon semifinals and a straight-sets victory en route to the Queen's Club title in June.

Continuing its quest for a trip to its first Davis Cup final in 11 years, the Americans face a massive uphill climb in Sunday's reverse singles.

If they somehow find a way to defuse the Croatian No. 1, Davis Cup debutante Frances Tiafoe is slated to face Borna Coric in the fifth match.

With twin brother Bob Bryan recovering from hip surgery and Jack Sock, who partnered Mike Bryan to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles titles, unable to compete, Harrison stepped up.

The former French Open doubles champion stung heavy serves and crunched timely topspin forehands setting up Mike Bryan for sharp-angled volley wizardry.

Croatia held a set point in the opening set only to see the Americans rally to a one-set lead.

Playing the ad side, an energized Harrison began ripping his forehand with more vigor.

Swooping forward, Harrison swatted a forehand down the middle for the first break of the second set and a 4-2 lead.

Amping up the intensity, Croatia came right back.




Turning a rally into target practice with both Americans at net, Dodig drilled forehand after forehand before driving a clean forehand down the middle breaking ring back in the seventh game with a massive uppercut in the air.

Facing set point at 5-6, Dodig hit a bold second serve then clung to the baseline like a man holding onto a lift raft. A frenetic point saw Harrison challenge a sliding Pavic, who reflexed back a couple of volleys. Pavic knocked off a volley down the middle saving set point and ending one of the most electric exchanges of the day.

Croatia squandered a 5-2 tie break lead and held a set point at 6-5, but Bryan saved it with a sharp serve.

When Pavic bricked a volley into net, the USA had set point.




Wisely covering the line, Bryan swooped to snap off a forehand volley for a two-set lead.

Streaks of clay caked Dodig's shirt after a dive across the court. He looked like a men who spent the afternoon mud-wrestling King Kong. Dodig delivered angled returns breaking Harrison for a 2-0 third-set lead.

That break sparked a spirited Croatian charge through the third set.

In a topsy-turvy fourth set, the Americans were two points from victory but Dodig denied them with a gritty hold for 5-all.

Facing double break point in the following game, Bryan answered with bold second serves and dynamic net play digging through a gutsy service game. Pavic plowed through a love hold to force the fourth-set tie break.




Attacking Bryan's second serve and going directly at Harrison on net exchanges, Croatia played a high-energy breaker at the start. Pavic pounded an ace for 5-1, but four points later a tight Dodig double faulted into net and it was 5-all.

A loopy lob from Bryan sailed long giving the host set point.

A poaching Harrison shanked a high backhand volley badly hanging his head as Dodig hurled a fist and Cilic and his Croatian teammates erupted exhorting Pavic and Dodig to finish the job in five.




Buzzing a low return, Bryan coaxed Pavic into bunting a low backhand volley deep as the Americans muted the home side breaking to start the final set.

Swarming net, Croatia broke Mike Bryan's serve in the fourth game sending Dodig bouncing off the clay in exuberance.

A pumped Pavic plastered an ace down the T holding at love to seal Croatia's third straight game and a 3-2 lead.

Both teams held serve doggedly as the drama escalated into the fifth-set tie break.

Challenging Dodig to a forehand duel, Harrison drew the error for the mini break and a 3-1 lead. Bryan bolted a serve down the middle for 5-2 and gave the Americans' double match point with an angled volley for 6-4.

Staring down a second serve on the second match point, Harrison got the forehand he wanted and hit a heavy twisting forehand right down the middle. At net, Pavic paused rather than poaching allowing the ball to pierce the middle. Dodig, frozen for a moment expecting the net man to cover middle, could not recover.

An ecstatic Harrison celebrated chest-bumping Mike. It lacked the height the Bryan brothers typically bring on their soaring chest-collisions but after a gripping four hour, 43 minutes it was surprising both could still summon spring in their steps.

A hard-core no-surrender victory keeps American hopes alive for another 24 hours with closer Cilic awaiting.

The winner of this semifinal will play defending champion France in the November 23rd-25th Davis Cup final.


 

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