Defending champion Croatia, missing injured lynchpin Marin Cilic, suffered an opening loss on Monday in group play at the Davis Cup Finals, losing 2-0 to Russia.

The Group B result gave Russia an unbeatable 2-0 scoreline as the new, reduced format team competition tries its luck with the tennis public this week in Madrid.

The 119-year-old competition has been reduced to a one-week shootout, with best of three sets and elimination of the popular home and away format which brought the event to hometowns around the globe.

Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev did the damage for Russia in the three-nation group, one of six in the tournament.

Karen Khachanov with 2018 Paris Masters trophy Photo Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Winners advanced to the quarter-finals along with the next best two overall finishers.

Rublev won his first Davis match in six tries, defeating Croat Borna Gojo 6-3, 6-2; Karen Khachanov added another Russian point with his 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 win over Borna Coric.

“It  was important to start well,” the 17th-ranked Khachanov said,

“I had some opportunities and took them, I’m really happy we won this rubber.

“When you play for your country, you need to give extra toughness and extra fight. It was a solid match from both of us.” said the 17th-ranked Khachanov.

Rublev imposed his game on his Croatian opponent in just over an hour against an inexperienced 280th-ranked rookie substitute brought in at the last minute when Cilic announced the previous week that he would not play.

Croatia beat France in the final of the last Davis Cup staged in the classic format a year ago in Lille, France.

Lille, Croata celebrate after beating France with the last Davis Cup trophy in it’s traditional format Photo Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

“It’s amazing to play for your country, to be here in Madrid. I’m happy I could help my team and bring them the first point,” Rublev said.

Canada took charge of Italy as Vasek Pospisil came good as he substituted for the injured Felix Auger-Aliassime and beat 12th-ranked Fabio Fognini 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Denis Shapovalov, the recent Paris Bercy finalist, finished off the unbeatable 2-0 lead as he took down ATP No. 8 Matteo Berrettini,  who played in last week’s ATP Finals in London, 6-5(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(5).

Denis Shapovalov Photo Anne Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Belgium also won 2-0 over outclassed Colombia thanks to the veteran pair of David Goffin and Steve Darcis.

The Belgians, 2015 finalist against Andy Murray’s Britain, now lead Group D after the opening day of play at the Calle Magica.

Darcis, 35 and a clutch player over the years for his nation, came from a set down to overwhelm Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-2, take 64 minutes.

Darcis will be retiring after his run is done at the Australian Open in January.

Steve Darcis in his penultimate Grand Slam, US Open 2019 Photo Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

“For me this is s big, I know it’s going to be my last time playing for Belgium, so I’ll try to do my best like always. It’s going to be a great week,” he said.

“I feel great. I didn’t play in Davis Cup since the final against France (a losing 2017 final

“It’s a great feeling to be back on the team, back on the court, to win the first point is very important for us.”

Goffin, ranked 11th, rallied past the 119th-ranked  Galan 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, winning his 12th straight Davis singles match.

“Sometimes you have to fight, sometimes you have the flow and you fly” Goffin said.

“I’m happy the way I fought, I didn’t give up, because that’s the most important thing because I’m playing for my country,” Goffin, who trailed 4-0 in a losing first set, said.

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