Australia’s dream of regaining the Davis Cup after nearly two decades has been blasted apart by the firepower of Canada’s twin rockets.
First, Thanasi Kokkinakis was put to the sword by Denis Shapovalov before Alex de Minaur got shredded 6-3 6-4 by Felix Auger-Aliassime as Canada lifted the men’s World Cup of tennis for the first time in the competition’s 122-year annals on Sunday.
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And with brutal honesty, Kokkinakis has admitted that perhaps he wasn’t the best choice to take on the key opening singles match in Australia’s crushing defeat.
“Unfortunately, I was pretty much useless in this finals,” the Adelaide star lamented.
Kokkinakis, who’d also lost in straight sets to Croatia’s Borna Coric in Australia’s semi-final win, admitted that he’d been nervous, wasn’t match sharp and was low on confidence going into Sunday’s (Monday AEDT) showdown.
It begged the question as to whether captain Lleyton Hewitt should have instead selected Jordan Thompson, who’d been unbeaten over both quarter-final and semi-final ties earlier in the week, for the opening singles spot.
Even Kokkinakis admitted that might have been a better option, rather than just selecting Thompson for a potentially decisive doubles contest which eventually wasn’t even needed after Auger-Aliassime wrapped up the win with his singles win over de Minaur.
“Do I think I’m singles match-hardened? No. Maybe Thommo was the better option – but the guys believed in me maybe more than I believed in myself at times today,” conceded a gloomy Kokkinakis.
“We’ve got a great team, a well-rounded team, but maybe there was a question of whether Thommo could back up and potentially play both (singles and doubles).
“Who knows? I could have played the doubles, but after what the guys showed in the last match (against Croatia), I have a lot of confidence in them and the way they played.
“Yeah, unfortunately I was pretty much useless in this finals, but hopefully I can train hard and be available and get selected next year.”
The loss means Australia’s frustrating 19-year wait for a 29th title goes on after their courageous, unexpected run to the final in Malaga ended with the searing quality of two top-20 stars proving too much for Lleyton Hewitt’s battlers.
“I’m gutted for the boys. They’ve put in the commitment and the work and done absolutely everything right all year,” Hewitt said.
“They left it all out there once again; we came up slightly short, but I couldn’t be prouder – and all of Australia should be proud.”
No team without a top-20 player has won the title since Argentina in 2016 and that lack of an Australian world-beater was glaring as they missed out on a first triumph since 2003.
After a dejected Kokkinakis was left scolding himself for his limp performance in his shredding by an inspired Shapovalov, the never-say-die Australian No.1 de Minaur knew he’d need a potentially career-defining win over Auger-Aliassime.
The big names were out in force among the 9500 crowd at the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena in the Spanish resort, with Novak Djokovic bringing his son along to watch and soccer star Gerard Pique, overlord of the new-look Davis Cup, in the VIP tribune.
And they were all wowed by Auger-Aliassime, who looked every inch the future grand slam winner that has long been seen as his tennis destiny. Maybe even in Melbourne in January?
“It’s a dream come true,” beamed the 22-year-old, who’d won the junior Davis Cup title with Shapovalov in 2015 in a partnership that could now go on to dominate the senior competition after two finals in three years.
“It’s a special team. Hopefully, this generation will be able to bring this very far.”
De Minaur was a picture of misery after the world No.6’s languid power eventually overwhelmed his defiance.
The Canadian’s brilliance makes him look a good bet at the Australian Open next year, but even in the final game, as he dug out an incredible backhand counter-punch to move 30-0 ahead on Auger-Aliassime’s serve, de Minaur just wouldn’t surrender.
“It’s tough, but so many Australian Davis Cup players have followed our journey throughout the whole year every step and were riding this roller coaster with us. It just shows what a family this Australian Davis Cup team is,” said Spanish-based de Minaur, whose family turned out to cheer.
Shapovalov, who’d had a mixed week in Malaga and struggled with a back problem his semi-final loss on Saturday, chose the perfect time to display his full repertoire of knifing skills against the outclassed Kokkinakis.
Whether Kokkinakis, who’d also lost his semi-final rubber with Croatia’s Borna Coric, should have been chosen rather than Thompson, who’d won his quarter-final singles rubber, was debatable – and, in truth, probably neither could have coped with Shapovalov in this mood.