Hewitt’s heroes fight into Davis Cup final

Australia's tennis men have reached the Davis Cup final for the first time in 19 years after coming from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 in the semis in Malaga.

Australia's tennis men have reached the Davis Cup final for the first time in 19 years after coming from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 in the semis in Malaga. Photo: AAP

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.

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 staring at defeat before rallying to down the formidable Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 6-4.

On Sunday (Monday AEDT), the Australians will face either star-studded Canada or second-string 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, who’ll be looking to oversee a 29th Davis Cup triumph.

Australian chances seemed to have been slashed when the dismaying news emerged that the Wimbledon-winning partnership of Purcell and Matt Ebden wouldn’t be starting the decider.

Hewitt later revealed the problem had been an ankle niggle for Ebden which meant “we had to go back to the drawing board and work out a plan that could get the win”.

His solution worked perfectly.

Thompson, a singles hero in the quarter-final win over the Netherlands, was replaced by Thanasi Kokkinakis in the opener’s role but, as a fine doubles player too, was selected alongside his Sydneysider pal Purcell, a long-time training partner.

“There’s nothing f—— like it, mate! Honestly, nothing like it, the best thing I’ve ever experienced!” Purcell told the crowd, while Thompson suggested a little less colourfully he hadn’t minded being dropped from the singles.

“Whatever role the team needs me in, I’ll do it. I still got to wear the green and gold and alongside Maxie in a do-or-die doubles match,” he said.

The Croatian duo didn’t give the Aussies a sniff of a chance for almost two sets until they suddenly conjured up inspiration.

Thompson fired some tracers down the middle as they broke Mektic’s serve from nowhere at 5-5 in the second set to transform the contest and both then produced a salvo of stunning winners to break for 4-3 in the third too.

Pandemonium erupted among a small, noisy Aussie fan club in the 8000 crowd in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena, as Hewitt’s team soon celebrated reaching their first final since 2003 when the captain himself played in the triumph over France in Melbourne.

Earlier, de Minaur delivered a masterclass to keep their hopes alive, outplaying Cilic 6-2 6-2 in a must-win second singles match following Kokkinakis’s 6-4 6-3 defeat by Borna Coric in the opening rubber.

Kokkinakis’s defeat meant the onus had been 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,” said de Minaur. “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.”


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