Potchefstroom - Croatia won their Davis Cup promotion/relegation play-off against South Africa at the Fanie du Toit Sports Stadium on Sunday, after going up 3-1 following Marin Cilic's 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 straight-sets win over Rik de Voest in the day's opening tie.
In the later clash, Nikola Mektic defeated Raven Klaasen 7-6 (2), 6-1 to wrap up his country's 4-1 conquest in South Africa.
De Voest was South Africa's surprise entrant in Sunday's opening reverse singles rubber after No 1 Kevin Anderson withdrew from the match with an injured hip. Anderson was South Africa's only real chance of forcing a result after he raised the country's hopes with a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win over Ivan Dodig on Friday.
"I woke up on Sunday thinking I could play but the hip was still pretty sore, and I was struggling (to move)," Anderson said after watching De Voest in action.
"These things happen in sport, especially in tennis.
"I went out there on Friday and played my best tennis but then I tweaked my hip pretty badly."
Cilic rounded off South Africa's demise with a win over De Voest, but not before the South African halted his victory charge with a brave performance.
De Voest's fighting qualities came to the fore towards the end of the first set, prompting the SA camp to wonder whether their charge could do the impossible.
Cilic ended the first-set battle in just under an hour.
However, in the second set Cilic showed why he is ranked 26th in the world as he wore down De Voest's resolve with solid ground-strokes from the comfort of the baseline. And on the odd occasion when he closed in on the net, his volleys left De Voest stranded, in their 33-minute second-set duel.
De Voest offered more stubborn resistance in the third and managed a service break in the fifth game, but Cilic bounced back in the next game to keep his match-winning aspirations on track before he ran out a deserving 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 winner.
Afterwards, De Voest said playing without Anderson meant that the country's Davis Cup were dashed.
"When you're playing in the World Group you'll see the country rely on their top-ranked player and that play is very important for the team's success," said De Voest. "I was just not good enough today, and Cilic came up with some great shots.
"It was very difficult without Anderson, even though we enjoyed home ground advantage, and we were able to feed off the crowd.
"We can't always rely on one player and to play in the World Group the team needs to have depth."
Cilic said the Croatian side was a young one and the win was good for the future of tennis in their country.
"This is a very young team, and since we are all very good friends, we can stay together for a few years," said Cilic. "With this win we can now look to the future."
SA captain John-Laffnie de Jager said it was devastating losing two (Anderson and Van der Merwe) top players.
"Obviously it's hurting and it's disappointing in the sense that we worked so hard to win this tie," said De Jager. "We've come so close now for three years running and we must not give up now.
"But from the time we lost Van der Merwe we were on the back foot and never had a chance to recover because then Anderson was out."