Australia’s battling tennis men have defied all the odds with a makeshift doubles pairing steering them to victory over Croatia and into their first Davis Cup final in 19 years on a nerve-shredding evening in Malaga.
After more heroics from Alex de Minaur had pulled Lleyton Hewitt’s team back from the brink with his consummate tie-levelling singles win over Marin Cilic, Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell beat the Olympic doubles champions to seal Friday’s exhilarating 2-1 semi-final win.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Lleyton Hewitt and the Aussies celebrate after historic David Cup win.
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It was a triumph straight out of captain Lleyton Hewitt’s gritty playbook as a doubles pairing who’d never played together in the Davis Cup were left staring at defeat before rallying to down the formidable Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 6-4.
On Sunday, the Australians will face either Canada or Italy in the final, with the force now seeming to be with Hewitt’s heroes.
“It’s been a long time – we’re a very proud Davis Cup nation and I’m just thrilled for these boys,” said Hewitt on court.
“They deserve to go out there and get a chance to play in a final – and now it’s going to happen on Sunday.”
There was shock earlier with news the Wimbledon-winning partnership of Purcell and Matt Ebden wouldn’t be starting, with Hewitt revealing later Ebden had an injury concern.
Yet Thompson, a singles hero in the quarter-final win over the Netherlands, is a fine doubles exponent and proved a nerveless stand-in alongside his fellow Sydneysider pal he’s trained with many times.
“There’s nothing f*****g like it, mate! Honestly, nothing like it, the best thing I’ve ever experienced!” Purcell told the crowd.
The Croatian duo are one of the top modern partnerships in doubles, having triumphed at Wimbledon and the Olympics last year but the Australians, who didn’t get a sniff of a chance for almost two sets, suddenly came alive.
Thompson fired some dazzling winners as they broke Mektic’s serve from nowhere at 5-5 in the second set to change the course of the match and both then produced a salvo of remarkable winners to break for 4-3 in the third.
It prompted huge celebrations among a small, noisy Aussie fan club in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena, with Hewitt’s team soon celebrating reaching their first final since 2003 when the captain himself spearheaded the triumph over France in Melbourne.
Earlier, de Minaur delivered a masterclass to keep their hopes alive, outplaying Marin Cilic 6-2 6-2 in a must-win second singles match following Thanasi Kokkinakis’s 6-4 6-3 defeat by Borna Coric in the opening rubber.
Hewitt had started the day with a pre-tie surprise, bringing in Kokkinakis to replace quarter-final hero Thompson, trusting his extra firepower might discomfit the resurgent world No.26 Coric.
But Kokkinakis’s defeat meant the onus was on de Minaur to continue his stellar run, needing to win his 10th singles rubber out of his last 11 against Cilic, the last man to beat him in the competition in Croatia’s 2021 group victory.
“I know my role,” de Minaur said.
“My role is to be tough as nails and be that guy that’s just hopefully going to be getting those tough wins. I have been doing that well for a while, so very proud of myself.”
Kyrgios to headline Saudi summer event
Meantime elsewhere on the circuit, hungry to kick on from his impressive recent form, Nick Kyrgios is heading to Saudi Arabia intent on gaining a “head start” on his rivals ahead of his latest grand slam title push in Melbourne.
After calling a premature end to his breakout 2022 singles season in early October, Kyrgios will ramp up his summer preparations at the Diriyah Tennis Cup exhibition event from December 8-10.
Australia’s Wimbledon finalist is seeking priceless match practice against some of the world’s premier players including former No.1 Daniil Medvedev and fellow heavyweights Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Taylor Fritz.
“It’s a bonus for me to be able to play these matches and feel that match pressure still throughout my training block is going to be crucial for me and use that to get a bit of a head start on everyone else that’s not able to play these matches,” Kyrgios said.
In addition to his charge to a maiden grand slam final on London’s hallowed grass courts, Kyrgios also made the US Open quarter-finals, claimed a seventh career title in Washington and carved out a 37-10 win-loss record.
Only tennis titans Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal posted better strike rates.
The 27-year-old Australian No.1 is at last starting to fulfil his potential and is determined to break his grand slam duck in 2023.
An unseeded second-round loser to the top-ranked Medvedev this year, the new and improved Kyrgios will be among the favourites when he returns for his 10th Australian Open tilt from January 16-29.
“I think before the season started, I was having a conversation with myself that I wanted to kind of reinvent myself on the tour,” tennis’s most mercurial talent said.
“I feel like the last couple of years with COVID and everything that was going on, I really felt like I kind of lost my identity a little bit on the tennis circuit.
“This year I kind of reminded everyone that I’m still one of the best players in the world and was able to do that on the big stage – obviously Wimbledon, US Open, and I also won a title.
“I guess I had a little moment with myself at the start.”