Friends clash as Argentina face Croatia for Davis Cup
Juan Martin del Potro leads Argentina into battle against a Croatia side led by his good friend Marin Cilic in this weekend's Davis Cup final in Zagreb.
Del Potro and his team are hoping it's a case of fifth time lucky after four previous appearances in the finals.
Croatia, who have chosen a medium-slow court at the Zagreb Arena, have won it once -- defeating Slovakia to be crowned Davis Cup champions in 2005.
Del Potro, a veteran of losing finals against Spain in 2008 and 2011, says defeating his mate and fellow former US Open winner Cilic is key if Argentina are to break their Davis Cup hoodoo.
"Marin is a good player, I've known him since 12 years old and we've had a similar career," said Del Potro, who like Cilic is 28 years old with the pair both turning professional in 2005.
"He's a very good friend of mine on the tour. He deserves to be number six in the world at the moment. He's a great player and he has a chance to win this trophy this weekend, but we will try and win as well!"
Cilic gets the 2016 edition up and running against Argentina's Federico Delbonis in the opening rubber on Friday.
Del Potro then enters the fray against experienced Croat Ivo Karlovic, who at 37 years old will become the oldest player to feature in a Davis Cup singles match since 43-year-old Australian Norman Brookes in 1920.
"I would like to be a little younger, but that is life, we all have to get old one day, it's good that I'm still here," said the towering Karlovic.
-- Spirit of 2005 --
A non-playing member of the victorious 2005 squad, Karlovic returns following concerns over the match fitness of teenage star Borna Coric.
Cilic wants to conjure up the same winning spirit that paid off for the Ivan Ljubicic-led class of 2005.
"It was a huge achievement for our team, winning in 2005," reflected Cilic.
He described it as "amazing" to make the final after their first two matches were away.
"We hope we can continue with this good run."
Cilic is the only top 10 ranked player competing with Del Potro 32 spots below him, but the Argentine boasts eight wins from their last 10 meetings and hasn't lost to Cilic since 2011.
"I know him very, very good but it doesn't matter the matches we played before because now is different conditions for me," said Del Potro.
The injury-plagued Argentine arrives in Zagreb after an excellent comeback year that delivered silver at the Olympics and then an epic revenge defeat of his Rio conqueror Andy Murray in the Davis Cup semi-final win over holders Great Britain in Glasgow.
Argentina are expected to have vocal support among the 15,000 fans courtside in what is their fifth away date in the competition.
Argentine captain Daniel Orsanic is expecting fireworks from his players.
"We are here to live the experience, to live the tie in the moment. We will do our best. That is all we can do. We have a desire to do well, to represent well our country."
Aside from Del Potro and Delbonis, Argentina's team features Guido Pella and Leonardo Mayer.
Joining Cilic and Karlovic for the host nation are Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor.
The annual competition is named after American player and politician Dwight F Davis and was first staged in 1900, with the USA beating Great Britain.
© 2016 AFP