Australia’s Davis Cup team produced a bravura display to sweep Switzerland in a must-win tie and reach the finals. Lleyton Hewitt’s team knew they would guarantee their tickets to the eight-team knock-out finals if they could beat the Swiss 3-0 in Saturday’s final group stage tie in Manchester – and Thanasi Kokkinakis, Alex de Minaur and the doubles pairing of Max Purcell and Matt Ebden duly obliged with scintillating performances.
It mean the Australians, who finished runners-up last year, will be able to return to Malaga in November with their eyes set on going one better by lifting the title for the first time in 20 years since Hewitt led them to victory as a player.
“Who knows?” shrugged Hewitt on court at the AO Arena after being asked about their chances. “We gave ourselves a great opportunity last year and the boys got a taste for it. We want to try and push a little bit harder and see if we can climb that mountain and I feel like I’ve got the boys that are able to do that.”
Hewitt’s key decision – to keep faith in Kokkinakis – paid off handsomely as the Adelaide powerhouse, who had suffered three straight Davis Cup singles defeats, defeated Dominic Stricker 6-3, 7-5 in the opening rubber, which has proved a troublesome launch pad for the captain.
Then De Minaur, the Australian No 1, continued his proud record in the green and gold, outplaying Marc-Andrea Huesler, who had been preferred to veteran three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 6-3 to seal Australia’s second victory of the week following their 2-1 win over France.
Then there was a sense of inevitability about the reunited ‘M & M’ pairing of Ebden and Purcell winning the third straight rubber of their undefeated week, as they outclassed Stricker and Huesler 6-2, 6-4.
It had been a bold call first-up by Hewitt as Kokkinakis is lower-ranked than two of his teammates, Purcell and Jordan Thompson, and had admitted to suffering from nerves earlier in the week when he lost to British newcomer Jack Draper after serving for the match.
“Relief, honestly, after the other day, just pure relief,” sighed Kokkinakis after this key victory. “I’m not going to lie, I was fighting some demons there towards the end,” he added, after Stricker belatedly forged his way back into a contest that Kokkinakis had largely dominated from the start with his excellent serving, including 16 aces, and 21 winning forehands.
“If you lose, you feel like you’ve let everyone down so it’s tough, I’m not going to lie.”
But Hewitt said his faith in Kokkinakis had never wavered. “Not for a second did I doubt he was gonna go out there and do the job for us today. I had full belief that Thanasi was going to get it done.”
De Minaur, who’s risen to No 12 on the ATP computer, suffered a rude shock when broken in the opening game by world No 101 Huesler, but once he wrested back control by breaking back in the sixth game he always looked in a different class, racing to his ninth Davis Cup singles win in his last 11 rubbers in just 73 minutes.
Ebden and Purcell have gone their separate ways this season as Purcell has concentrated more on his flourishing singles career but they’ve looked like world-beaters all week again, just as they were when winning Wimbledon in 2022.
Purcell, in particular, was absolutely flying against the Swiss with a quite dazzling performance.