ZADAR, Croatia — Marin Cilic held his nerve to beat big-hitting Lucas Pouille 6-1, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 and draw Croatia level against France at 1-1 in their Davis Cup semifinal on Friday.
Earlier, Richard Gasquet won the opening tie against Borna Coric in straight sets to heap the pressure on the big-serving Cilic.
But the 2014 U.S. Open champion fended off the threat from the 22-year-old Pouille, who is considered one of the rising stars of tennis.
Cilic was serving for the second set at 6-5 and 40-0 up but made two big unforced errors on his forehand as Pouille broke back to force a tiebreaker, which Cilic eventually clinched with an ace after wasting set points.
Pouille, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last month, made an early break and then held for 3-1 on his way to comfortably winning the third set.
But Cilic took Pouille’s first service game of the fourth set and then led 4-2 before saving two break points in the seventh game and then hitting two aces to win it and move 5-2 up.
Cilic clinched victory in the next game on his first match point when Pouille double-faulted.
“I felt the intensity of the match especially in the first two sets,” Cilic said. “Lucas wasn’t too bad in the opening two sets but I managed to push him back and felt I was hitting my ground strokes well from the baseline.
“But the moment I lost a little bit of focus he was there and I had to work hard to stay in control of the match. I had to get my rhythm back at the beginning of the fourth set and getting that break early on was crucial.”
France started brightly and quietened the home fans at the Kresimir Cosic Hall in Zadar.
Gasquet, who found out he would play in singles after Gael Monfils left the injury-hit France team on Wednesday, was in complete control against Coric and prevailed 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-1, limiting his mistakes to just 13 unforced errors.
The 17th-ranked Frenchman, whose previous match ended in a straight sets loss to Kyle Edmund in the first round at the U.S Open first round, said winning the second set tiebreak was the “key to the match.”
After Coric failed to serve out the second set, Gasquet erased a 3-1 deficit in the tiebreak. Down 6-3, Coric saved two set points but buried a backhand into the net and Gasquet took a two-set lead.
“I won, that’s the most important. It’s Davis Cup, it’s never easy,” Gasquet said. “Three sets to zero, it’s a great result for me. It was important for me to make him run.”
Gasquet improved his singles record to 12-8. France is without Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who have both been ruled out by knee problems.
France has the clear advantage in Saturday’s doubles, with Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert — the top-ranked doubles players in the world — up against Ivan Dodig and Marin Draganja, although Cilic hinted he could step up at the last minute against the French pair.
“Tomorrow morning we will decide if I am going to play in the doubles or not,” Cilic said. “I feel well, I am not overly exhausted.”
In reverse singles Sunday, Gasquet faces Cilic and Pouille takes on the 19-year-old Coric.
The winner plays Britain or Argentina in the final.