Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia put their nation one win away from a historic Davis Cup title Saturday, rolling 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) over Slovaks Dominik Hrbaty and Michal Mertinak to take a 2-1 lead in the final.
Ljubicic was poised to capture the trophy for his country yesterday when he played Hrbaty in a battle of national number 1 players.
The Croatian pair have now won all four of their Davis doubles rubbers this season, but none previously in straight sets. Ancic and Ljubicic claimed the win in a third-set tiebreaker, after two hours, 47 minutes.
"The first set (featuring four consecutive breaks of serve) was strange," confessed Ljubicic. "They played almost perfect in the first eight games," he said.
"They were returning everything of ours. They didn't miss a first serve. It was tough for us to play. We knew it could not last forever, but it was not comfortable. The tiebreak was the key."
Slovakia, playing for the fourth time at home during the 2005 campaign, can write a record of its own if the squad led by Hrbaty can miraculously turn the tide on the concluding day, a tough ask by any measure.
The winning nation will become the 12th to own a Davis Cup title after the battle of first-time finalists.
"Sunday will be tougher, more intense mentally rather than physically," said Ljubicic. "Tomorrow is the last match of the season. If you have even a little bit left, you give all you have. It won't be a physical issue tomorrow," he said.
"It's about who will cope with the pressure better, Dominik or me."
As expected, Hrbaty was called into action by coach Miloslav Mecir just a few hours before the doubles start, with Karol Beck suffering from both a knee injury and allegations of a positive drugs test at September's semifinal against Argentina here.
Ljubicic's doubles victory puts him within one win of the all-time record of a dozen Davis victories in a season achieved by John McEnroe in 1982.
The first set, played in the hothouse atmosphere of the tiny 4,100-capacity Sibamac arena, featured drama from the start, with Ancic requiring eight minutes to hold serve in the opening game with his side fending off a pair of break points.
The scenario was further complicated by the run of four straight service breaks, ending when Ljubicic held to hand Croatia into a 6-5 lead.
With the set eventually moving to a tiebreaker, it was the world number nine who finally wrapped it up after 61 minutes, firing down the side's fifth ace to secure the set for the visitors.
Hrbaty, home hero in Friday's singles fightback over Ancic, proved to be the weak link in the second set.
He twice lost serve in a 36-minute encounter, with the third set going into another tiebreaker which Croatians calmly handled, claiming the win on their first match point.
Croatian coach Niki Pilic damped down any preliminary enthusiasm among his men.
"To win we need three points, we are not thinking about anything except winning one singles tomorrow," he said.
"We need that one point badly, but we got an important point today. I'm happy we have two, but we still have to concentrate to make a victory."
If his younger teammates delivered, Goran Ivanisevic was set to lift the Davis Cup trophy yesterday and take it home to Croatia for the first time.
Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion, came out of retirement for the final, but captain Nikki Pilic did not select him for either the singles or the doubles, choosing to go with his younger players.
Unless Pilic has a very sudden and unexpected change of heart Sunday, which he is allowed to do under the rules, Ivanisevic will be cheering his teammates from the sidelines as he has done the past two days.
Ivanisevic has said that he would not want to play if Croatia had already taken a decisive 3-1 lead because "everybody would be drunk" by then.