In the first quarter-final of the ATP Cup, Team Australia defeated Team Great Britain 2-1. As a British fan it was a heart-breaking result but for the neutral, it was an epic clash between two nations who have been rivals for as along as one can remember while the Aussie supporters could hardly contain their delight in the new Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney as the home nation progressed into the semi-finals of this inaugural event.
We wanted to come out (in the doubles) with a bit of firepower and today it paid off for us Lleyton Hewitt
It was a close-run thing played over 6-hours and 16-minutes and it wasn’t until the final deciding doubles ‘championship’ tie-break that Australia managed to drag themselves over the finishing line having experienced team captain Lleyton Hewitt’s prediction that it would be a tough tie against the Brits.
Nick Kyrgios has proved himself to be the mainstay of the home team during the group matches, proved himself yet again that his talent can equal the best in the game when he applies his mind and in the Aussies colours, he does just that.
He opened the play to give his team a flying start dispatching Cam Norrie 6-2 6-2 in just 72-minutes.
Dan Evans then stepped up to level the tie with a 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(2) win over Alex de Minaur in what many believe was the match of the tournament. It was a brilliant display of tenacity and British bull-doggedness as he overcame the young world number 18 after three-hours and 24-minutes to level the match at 1-1 and set up the deciding doubles.
To everyone’s surprise Hewitt decided to drop his doubles specialist pairing and field the two singles players against the more experienced Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury.
Despite his loss to Evans, de Minaur didn’t show any effects from that marathon contest and with Kyrgios taking the lead, the pair justified their captain’s decision to come through on their fifth match point in the deciding tie-break to seal, after 95-minutes, a thrilling 3-6 6-3 18-16 victory. The tie-break itself took just under the half-hour!
The victory nearly raised the roof of the stadium as the Australian team danced around the court in relieved triumph, Kyrgios at one stage carrying de Minaur across his shoulders around the court.
Hewitt’s gamble of playing the pair who had never played together before, had paid off.
“Obviously Nick was playing extremely well in his singles today and he felt pretty fresh coming out of it.
“I think Alex is a hell of a doubles player when he plays, even though it’s not that much.
“I think with those guys (Murray and Salisbury), we have to try and make a lot of returns. We wanted to come out with a bit of firepower and today it paid off for us.”
Hewitt was full of praise for his big guns in the way they handled the pressure and encouraged fans to get to the arena for their semi-final clash against Spain or Canada.
“It was an unbelievable atmoshphere but I don’t know if I could have sat through much more of it,” he admitted.
“That was incredible tennis all three matches today, they gave 100% and left it all out on the court.
“I am really proud of the boys and the way they were able to turn it around after Alex went down in such a tight singles match.
“The way they fired up in the locker room and then came out a set down in the doubles and come back was unreal. It could have gone either way and it fell ours today.
“I know how much the boys love coming back here…we want a packed house on for the semis and we are looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile Tim Henman’s team will rue the four match points they held in that epic deciding tie-break having fought back from 4-7 down in the first to ten ‘championship’ format with Murray lamenting the missed opportunity at 11-10 when the ball rose invitingly following a netcord for the Brit to hit a winner into an open court which he proceeded to overhit long!
The British team, while obviously disappointed, leave Sydney with their heads held high with Evans establishing himself as the main linch-pin of the group.
His epic against de Minaur was an example of his new found confidence which should stand him in good stead in future events.
Commenting on his marathon match, an exhausted Evans exclaimed: ‘That’s about as good as I’ve got.’
He was mobbed by his team-mates when he converted his fifth match point to finally level the tie and provide that deciding doubles opportunity.
Russia face Argentina in the second quarter-final being played in the night session while Spain and Belgium clash on Friday night, after Serbia take on Canada in that day’s first quarter-final.