AAP Tennis

Croatia, France in box seats in Davis Cup

By AAP Newswire

The umpire at the centre of the Serena Williams controversy in the US Open final has made his return to the chair in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup.

The match between Marin Cilic of Croatia and American Frances Tiafoe was umpired by Carlos Ramos - the official accused of sexism by Williams after he docked her a game during the tumultuous women's final at Flushing Meadows against Naomi Osaka.

Thankfully for Ramos this match was a more tranquil affair, as Cilic scored a 6-1 6-3 7-6 (7-5) win to put the hosts 2-0 ahead in Zadar on Friday.

Cilic overwhelmed the American youngster in the opening two sets but was made to work harder in the third as Tiafoe finally shook off his debut nerves.

Cilic's victory made him Croatia's most successful Davis Cup player, moving him past the 36 rubbers won by Ivan Ljubicic.

Earlier, Borna Coric gave Croatia a flying start by defeating Steve Johnson 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 in the opening rubber.

21-year-old Coric had lost his only previous encounter with the US number three at Roland Garros but on Zadar's clay courts drew first blood for the hosts against Johnson, who is leading his country in the absence of John Isner and Jack Sock.

The United States, the event's most successful nation, now face an uphill battle to reach the last final of the Davis Cup to be played in its traditional format before next year's revamp.

In the other semi-final, defending champions France are just one win away from a chance to go back-to-back after also winning both matches on day one against Spain on Friday in Lille.

Benoit Paire made a remarkable Cup debut for France, outplaying an injured Pablo Carreno-Busta 7-5 6-1 6-0 in the opening rubber in less than two hours.

French No.1 Lucas Pouille then battled from behind to beat Roberto Bautista Agut in a classic five-setter 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 2-6 6-4 in three hours 41 minutes.

France's captain Yannick Noah praised his two opening day victors, saying Pouille had again "dug deep", while Paire played a match "of his dreams."

Paire had never been selected for his country before, admitting himself that his explosive, erratic performances on court meant he could previously never properly be trusted.

"I've waited a long time for this and it's a dream to win on my debut," said Paire.

"Though it's been a long time, hopefully it's not too late for me and I'll get more chances.