Alex de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkanikis have dragged Australia into the Davis Cup finals group stage in a thrilling 3-2 qualifying win over Hungary in Sydney. The unfancied Hungarians had taken a shock 2-1 lead with a stunning doubles victory on Saturday before de Minaur and Kokkinakis embarked on a steely rescue mission at Ken Rosewall Arena.
In the end Kokkinakis sealed the tie for Australia with a 6-4 6-4 triumph over Zsombor Piros after de Minaur came out on top in the marquee match-up between the two nations’ No.1s with an electrifying 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win over Marton Fucsovics. The great escape marks only the third time this century the Australians have overturned a 2-1 deficit in Davis Cup.
Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt featured in the previous two comebacks, upstaging Roger Federer in the fourth rubber in Zurich in 2000 before Mark Philippoussis beat George Bastl to clinch the tie. Hewitt and Sam Groth also saved Australia on the last day of the 2015 quarter-final against Kazakhstan in Darwin after Nick Kyrgios lost to world No 115 Aleksandr Nedovyesov and infamously declared “I don’t want to be here”.
There were no such theatrics from de Minaur and Kokkinakis on Saturday, but no less tension either as the pair delivered for Hewitt and their country under untold pressure. Mate Valkusz and Fabian Marozsan’s 6-4 6-4 doubles defeat of John Peers and Davis Cup debutant Luke Saville had Australia staring down the barrel of an inglorious exit from the competition.
Hungarian captain Zoltan Nagy only drafted Valkusz — ranked 1312th in doubles and the world No 439 singles player — in as a last-minute replacement for Fuscovics. But the captain’s call paid unexpected dividends. “It’s crazy,” Valkusz said after winning his first-ever Davis Cup match.
Fucsovics was rested after digging deep to beat Kokkinakis 7-6 (7-4) 1-6 6-3 in Friday night’s second singles rubber to level the tie at 1-1 after de Minaur gave Australia the early initiative with a 7-5 6-2 victory over Piros. But despite Hungary easing Fucsovics’ workload, de Minaur wore the world No 35 down in the sapping humidity under the arena’s closed roof, rallying from 3-0 and 4-2 down in the crucial first-set tiebreaker. He then withstood a fierce second-set fightback from Fuscovics to finally seal the must-win showdown on his fourth match point.
“This Aussie team is going to do everything to leave it all out there on the court,” de Minaur said. “We’ve got immense pride, immense passion and one thing you can count on from the Aussie Davis Cup team is we’re never going to give up.”
No one could accuse Kokkinakis of ever giving up. A catalogue of injuries had sidelined the 25-year-old from Davis Cup since 2015 but his straight-sets win over Piros completed a memorable summer hat-trick for the born-again baseliner. The Adelaide boy captured his maiden ATP singles title in his home town in January, then teamed with Nick Kyrgios to win the Australian Open doubles. He has now piloted his country into September’s Davis Cup finals group stage.
The full make-up of the 16-team group stage, to be played at yet-to-be-determined European locations, will be decided after the completion of this weekend’s other 11 qualifying ties.