Ivan Ljubicic pummelled Russia's Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 yesterday to send Croatia into their first Davis Cup final.
The 26-year-old sparked wild celebrations in the packed Gripe Sports Hall after completing a hat-trick of victories in the semi-final to give the hosts a winning 3-1 lead.
"I always thought my Olympic bronze medal was the highlight of my career," said Ljubicic, who achieved that feat last year in the doubles with Mario Ancic in Athens.
"But this is even better. I don't care who we play in the final because we're there."
Croatia captain Niki Pilic can now look forward to a fourth final against Slovakia, after steering Germany to three Davis Cup crowns.
Slovakia finished off Argentina 3-1 in Bratislava yesterday to reach their first final.
"Ljubicic has shown this weekend that he is world class," said Pilic, after dancing around court with former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of the team.
"I am very proud, Croatia is a small country with just four million people but we have a great team and great supporters."
Ljubicic beat Mikhail Youzhny to level the tie at 1-1 on Friday after Davydenko had earlier beaten Ancic, then teamed up with Ancic on Saturday to beat Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Andreev.
His victory against Davydenko was his ninth win in nine Davis Cup matches this season, including stunning victories over Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick to knock the United States out in the first round.
"My serve was the key today, and the crowd were fantastic," said Ljubicic, who had played 10 sets in the tie already before taking on the dangerous Davydenko. "Every time I needed a serve I found one.
"I had some terrible times at the beginning of my Davis Cup career, but through the years I've learned how to deal with the pressure match after match."
Despite nearly seven hours on court on Friday and Saturday, Ljubicic showed no signs of fatigue as he bossed the first set with a thunderous display of serving.
Only in the second set tiebreak did world number seven Davydenko threaten to spoil the party, leading 3-0 and 5-3 before Ljubicic stormed back to open a two-set lead.
Ljubicic's serve came to the rescue at 2-2 in the third set when he survived two break points, and that proved to be a demoralised Davydenko's last chance to keep the 2002 champions alive.
The Bosnia-born Ljubicic had never beaten Davydenko before but he broke the Russian to love in the 10th game before being mobbed by his team mates.
Slovakia draw first blood
Dominik Hrbaty defeated Guillermo Coria 7-6 (7/2), 6-2, 6-3 to make sure of their place in the final where they will face Croatia at home from December 2-4.
Slovakia made the most of their choice of hard courts at the Sibamac Arena National Tennis Centre here to nullify the clay court prowess of the South Americans and Hrbaty, the world No 19, made a mockery of Coria's ranking of eight.
It was a miserable weekend for Coria, the 2004 French Open runner-up, after he had lost his opening singles on Friday to the impressive Karol Beck, the world 48.
Source: China Daily