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Davis Cup | New format delivers shock and awe

The United States and Australia, the two most successful nations in Davis Cup history with 60 Cup victories between them, both won their 2022 qualifying rounds at the weekend, and will join 14 other nations, including three of last year’s semi-finalists, Great Britain, Serbia and Croatia, in the new format’s next stage.

Thank you Lleyton for trusting me,. To play a fifth rubber at home has been incredible. Thanasi Kokkinakis

At time of going to press, we await news from the ITF about which nation will replace the current Davis Cup holders, Russia, in September.

The US did not lose a rubber in securing a straightforward victory over Columbia in Reno, but success did not come so easily for Australia, the home favourites having to thank 25-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis for their dramatic fifth rubber victory which saw them finally overcome a gritty Hungary in Sydney.

With the tie tied at 2-2, it fell to Kokkinakis, the newly crowned Australian Open doubles champion, to overcome Hungary’s Zsombor Piros in what turned out to be a dramatic final rubber.

“Thank you Lleyton for trusting me,” said an emotional Kokkinakis at the conclusion of his 6-4 6-4 triumph. “To play a fifth rubber at home has been incredible.”

Kokkinakis had been recalled to the team after a seven-year hiatus by captain Lleyton Hewitt following his ATP tour success in Adelaide in January, and his Grand Slam doubles success with fellow Australian, Nick Kyrgios.

The US and Australia will be joined in the autumn finals by ten times Davis Cup champions France and six times winners Spain (without Rafael Nadal), who defeated Ecuador and Romania respectively in their home ties.

Four nations claimed away victories, Belgium, who came from 2-1 down to defeat Finland in Espoo; Germany, who won in Rio de Janeiro (Alexander Zverev winning both his singles matches in their 3-1 triumph over Brazil); Kazakhstan, who triumphed over Norway in Oslo, 3-1 and in a thrilling tie, Italy, who defeated Slovakia in Bratislava with victory in the fifth and final rubber.

Lorenzo Musetti of Italy celebrates after winning his crucial rubber

Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

It fell to the Tuscany born Lorenzo Musetti, who turned 20 the day before the start of the tie, to end his – and his country’s – weekend in glory, the world No 57 coming from behind to defeat the 6’5” Slovak, Norbert Gombos, 31, in a pulsating deciding rubber 6-7 6-2 6-4, a match of two hours and 24-minutes duration.

The tie had been finely poised from day one, with world No 203 Filip Horansky, the 29-year-old from Piestany, defying the rankings by defeating Turin born and bred Lorenzo Sonego, ranked 21 in the world, in the opening rubber.

This was followed up with victory in the doubles, Igor Zelenay and Filip Polasek upsetting Jannik Sinner and Simone Bolelli 6-3 1-6 7-6 to take Slovakia into a 2-1 lead and set up a dramatic finale.

On the final day, however, Sinner recovered his composure to defeat Horansky 7-5 6-4 in 90-minutes, a win which set the stage for Musetti’s late, dramatic and emotional victory.

Even though the capital’s NTC Arena was only half full, due to Covid restrictions, Polasek was moved to say, “That was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced here in Slovakia. It was just unbelievable how the people were cheering for us.”

Equally, Belgium recovered in dramatic fashion in their away tie at the Espoo Metro Arena, defeating Finland after going behind 2-1, with David Goffin and world No 168, Zizou Bergs, stepping up to win the tie on the final day without dropping a set. Bergs followed up Goffin’s 6-4 6-2 defeat of Emil Ruusuvouri (who must be the only player on the tour to have four ‘U’s in his name) by comprehensively trouncing Otto Virtanen 6-4 6-0. For Goffin, it was his 26th Davis Cup singles victory in 30 matches.

There were 3-0 wins for the Netherlands over Canada and Argentina over the Czech Republic, while the Korean Republic overcame Austria in Seoul and Sweden defeated Japan 3-2 in Helsingborg.

The twelve successful nations now move on to two finals weekends, in September and November. The Davis Cup by Rakuten, even in its new format has proved once again, that despite its 122 year history, can still deliver its own brand of thrilling encounters to enthral its tennis public.



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