Juan Carlos Ferrero was the unlikely hero for champions Spain as he rode a wave of patriotic fervor to salvage their Davis Cup hopes on Sunday.
While Ferrero was spurred on by a frenzied crowd to ensure Spain squeezed into the semi-finals with a 3-2 win over Germany, there was no escape route for Davis Cup heavyweights the US and Argentina who were both unceremoniously dumped out.
The Americans, champions a record 32 times, had to win both of Sunday’s reverse singles to reach the last four but Marin Cilic brought a swift end to their challenge when he beat James Blake 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to give Croatia an unbeatable 3-1 lead.
At least Juan Martin del Potro had made sure Argentina’s contest against the Czech Republic went to the wire when he trumped Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the first reverse singles to level the tie at 2-2 in Ostrava.
Although Del Potro won both his singles rubbers, the Czechs proved that the Davis Cup was more than a one-man show.
Radek Stepanek appeared to be in a trance as he barely put a foot wrong in a 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Juan Monaco to condemn last year’s runners-up to a 3-2 defeat.
“It is unbelievable ... I did not have energy to spare and tried to collect one point after another,” a dazed Stepanek said.
While the Czechs will travel to Croatia for the semis in September, Spain will be eager to make home advantage count again when they host Israel, who beat Russia 4-1.
Astonishingly Ferrero, could be missing from the line-up as he was only drafted into the team as a last-minute replacement since world No. 2 Rafael Nadal and 22nd-ranked David Ferrer were both out injured.
Ferrero was playing in the competition for the first time in four years and he made sure his appearance would be a memorable one since Spain were in danger of suffering their first home defeat in 16 ties.
Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber survived a stirring Fernando Verdasco fightback in the first reverse singles to win 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 2-6, 8-6 in Marbella to level the tie at 2-2.
But captain Albert Costa’s gamble to play Ferrero in the decider instead of Tommy Robredo, who lost in straight sets to Kohlschreiber on Friday, paid off as he dispatched Andreas Beck 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
As Beck shovelled the ball long on match point, the capacity crowd jumped to their feet and Ferrero leapt into the air before he was hoisted on to team mate Feliciano Lopez’s shoulder for a lap of honor.
“It’s been a long time since I was in the team as we are blessed with a lot of great players,” Ferrero told the crowd. “Playing the last match is always hard and we suffered right down to the last point but I am over the moon.”
In Porec, Croatia, the crowd played their part in energizing Cilic, who was on court for almost four and a half hours on Friday in a five-set win over Mardy Fish.
The 20-year-old appeared to suffer no lingering effects from that encounter as he outclassed Blake to extend Croatia’s record against the US to 3-0.