Slovakia Davis Cup captain Miroslav Mecir leapt to the defense of Karol Beck on Friday after the player was forced to battle allegations that he had failed a drugs test.
Beck, the world number 57, had to skip the opening singles rubber of the Davis Cup final against Croatia with his team insisting the 23-year-old had been ruled out through a knee injury.
Beck was also ruled out of yesterday's doubles which may have proved crucial to the tie which stood at 1-1 after the opening singles were shared.
"The doctor said that he would need two weeks to recover. I don't think therefore that he could play Saturday," said Mecir.
Mecir dismissed as "speculation" unconfirmed reports that Beck had tested positive for cannabis during his country's semifinal win over Argentina in September.
Kucera called up
Beck, who was replaced by veteran Karol Kucera on Friday, had been expected to partner Michal Mertinak in Saturday's doubles.
Kucera lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to Ivan Ljubicic on Friday before Dominik Hrbaty leveled the tie beating Mario Ancic 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4.
Beck denied the drugs allegations at a Thursday news conference.
"No," was his one-word answer when asked if he had tested positive.
"I wasn't surprised because I sort of expected this kind of issue. I have been dealing with this for over two weeks."
Croatia skipper Nici Pilic had said in midweek that he was convinced Beck wouldn't play because of the allegations hanging over him.
Mecir said, "It's really unpleasant to answer questions like this. I don't know the source of this information.
"Definitely it brings an element of discomfort to the team. But we will try and overcome it with our spirit."
Kucera had lost five of only nine matches he played all year, and has said he planned to retire after the final.
Neither he nor Beck, however, were expected to be able to topple Ljubicic, who won two tournaments in October, finished runner-up in two others, and was ranked ninth in the world.
"I was surprised by the late substitution, it's the first time it's happened to me," Ljubicic said.
"But both players are very similar and I've beaten them both before."
Ljubicic moved within two victories of tying John McEnroe's 1982 record of 12 Davis Cup wins in a single year - eight singles and four doubles.
"Honestly, I am not thinking about breaking any records," Ljubicic said. "But I'm really glad that I broke 10 live rubbers today."
All 10 of his victories have been in matches played with the overall result still at stake - a record since the World Group format was created in 1981.
"I think that's even bigger than winning 12 in a row," Ljubicic said, noting that three of McEnroe's wins were in dead rubbers when the result had already been decided.
Kucera said he had no answer to Ljubicic's effective serve and powerful groundstrokes.
"It was very difficult for me to prepare for this match because I haven't played much this year," Kucera said.
The capacity crowd of 4,000 in the Sibamac Arena - split about evenly between home fans and Croatian visitors - produced a typically noisy Davis Cup atmosphere with rattles, horns, drums and inflatable Thunder Stix.
Perhaps sensing that Hrbaty was its best hope, the Slovak side of the crowd came alive in the second singles.
Ancic entered the match with a 1-3 record in Davis Cup this year, and his play again was inconsistent.
He lost the second set on a double fault, only to rally in the third set, hitting a forehand winner to get back himself back into the match.
But it was Hrbaty who fired a forehand winner to break serve for a 3-2 lead and the Slovak went ahead for good.
Hrbaty, Slovakia's leading player, revived the home team's hopes when he won on an Ancic backhand into the net. He bowed to the crowd, kissed his fingertips and placed them over his heart.
"I said before and it was confirmed today that victory in this tie leads through Mario Ancic," Hrbaty said, singling out Croatia's No. 2 as the team's weak link.
Beck remained nominated for yesterday's doubles with Mihal Mertinak against Ljubicic and Ancic, who remain undefeated this year in the Davis Cup. However, the doubles lineups can be changed up to one hour before the match.
In today's reverse singles, Kucera replaces Beck to play Ancic, with Ljubicic scheduled to meet Hrbaty.
The ITF said a team can change its singles lineup after the draw if the referee determines a player is "incapacitated by illness, injury, or other unavoidable hindrance."
If Croatia takes the title, Nikki Pilic will become the first captain to win the trophy for two different nations.
He captained Germany to Davis Cup titles in 1988, 1989 and 1993.