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With their backs against the wall, Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta held their nerves to complete a big turnaround on the final day of the Davis Cup tennis tie against Croatia in Osijek, leading Spain to the World Group quarter-finals for the first time in five years.
Bautista Agut had the task to get his team to the fifth, deciding rubber and he didn't let them down. After a hard-fought battle that lasted for three hours and 19 minutes, the world No. 16 beat the Croatian No. 1, 29-year-old Franko Skugor 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (6) on Sunday.
"I was nervous before the match and the Croatian supporters put a lot of pressure in the end of the fourth set after I didn't serve out for the match. But, I managed to get my concentration back, played point by point and got the win," Bautista Agut said after the match.
The doors were open for the big comeback, and 25-year-old Carreno Busta didn't disappoint his captain and his teammates. He beat world No. 313 Nikola Mektic in straight sets 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-4 and got his first Davis Cup win in a live rubber.
"First set was tough. He was coming back after every break that I made. But, when I won the tie-break I went up and he went a little bit down with his level," Carreno Busta said.
Spanish captain Conchita Martinez said she never had any doubts about her team's chances to comeback from the 1-2 deficit.
"I believed that my players were good enough to get the win and they didn't disappoint me. I thought that they were very dominant," Martinez said about her first turnaround since she took over the Davis Cup captain role in 2015.
Croatian Davis Cup captain Zeljko Krajan wasn't bitter even though his team lost for the second time in a row at home after being 2-1 up with two remaining singles to play.
Two months ago, with Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic in the team, Croatia lost the Davis Cup final against Argentina in Zagreb. Now, playing without their best four players in Osijek, the team was once again on the verge of the victory with a place in the quarter-finals. But yet again, there wasn't happy ending in store for Croatian team.
"It was a miracle that we had a lead after two days. In reality, Spanish players were still big favorites on Sunday. We needed one more miracle but they don't come every day," Krajan said praising the performance of his players.
Nikola Mektic, who lost the fifth rubber, said he will have fond memories of the past weekend in Osijek.
"It was wonderful. I thinks we are the only team that lost and still got the standing ovation," Mektic said with a big smile on his face.
Croatia will have to wait until September to fight again for the spot in the World Group.
Spain will travel to the Balkans again in two months time to play the quarter-final tie in Serbia. This sets up a potential clash between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal if both of them opt to play.
Djokovic led Serbia to a home victory in the first round against Russia. He was the only player from the top 10 that took part in first round ties. Nadal was scheduled to play in Osijek but had to cancel his trip to Croatia after he made it to the final of the Australian Open.
Martinez hopes that she will have Nadal available for the April trip to Serbia.
"I hope he will be healthy and ready to play. It will be a very difficult match and I hope we will have Rafa on the team," Martinez said.
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