For the third time at this year’s Davis Cup Finals the doubles rubber settled the tie and it couldn’t have been more dramatic than in the semi-final featuring two former champion nations, Australia and Croatia, last year’s beaten finalists.
I know how much it meant for me as a player to get the opportunity to play in finals. So, I’m thrilled that these boys get that opportunity on Sunday. I just couldn’t be prouder of these guys and the heart and the passion and the pride that they are playing with out there. Lleyton Hewitt
The Aussies, with 28 overall wins to their credit, last won the trophy in 2003 while the Croat’s collected their second in 2018 and to add to their respective totals with this year’s title, was a priority in both team’s camps.
For Lleyotn Hewitt, team captain of Australia and a member of that last Aussie victory, sent out Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson to face the 2021 Wimbledon champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, breaking up the reigning Wimbledon doubles partnership of Matthew Ebden and Purcell, admitting later that there had been ‘a slight injury concern’ over Ebden, stating: “But I had no concerns about the chemistry of these two (Purcell and Thompson).”
With the tie poised at 1-1 and a final place at stake, the ‘gamble’ paid off, but the Aussies had to fight back from a set down before clinching that crucial doubles point 6-7(3) 7-5 6-4 after two-hours and 14-minutes of exciting doubles play.
But as the score shows, the Croats were very much in the ascendancy when they claimed the first set after a nail-biting 53-minutes only for the Aussies to dig deep and hit back to level breaking in the 11th game of the second set before breaking again in the seventh game of the decider to prevent Croatia from appearing in their fourth Davis Cup final in six years.
“It’s been a long time,” Hewitt said on reaching the championship round. “We’re a very proud Davis Cup nation and I’m very proud of these guys. They deserve to be in the final and in with a chance of winning this thing.”
The tie had started well for the Croats with Borna Coric claiming the opening rubber against Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4 6-3, hitting 19 winners and making just nine unforced errors as he improved his Davis Cup win-loss record to 14-9.
At first Coric had difficulties with the Kokkinakis serve but once he had started to read it, he became the dominant player on court.
“This means a lot to me,” Coric said after the match. “I was watching the guys play Davis Cup when I was injured and doing my rehab.
“To play for Croatia is an amazing feeling to me. I was turning to my coach in the first set and saying, ‘I don’t know what to do against his serve’, but I started to read it later on, and thankfully I was serving well myself.
“When I was younger, I didn’t serve so well and needed to improve it. After my shoulder surgery, I didn’t know whether I would be able to serve again at all, but I did so much work on it that I serve even better now than I used to.”
The semi-final now looked to be going the way of Croatia with Marin Cilic, at 34-years of age, still their best ever Davis Cup player with 43 wins to his credit from 32 ties played facing a relative novice in Alex de Minaur at 23 playing his 12h tie in which he has won 10 singles.
To most followers’ surprise, it was De Minaur who took control of the rubber and sweep past his more experienced opponent 6-2 6-2 in what proved to be a one-sided affair as Cilic, ranked 17, seven places higher than De Mianur, committed 23 unforced errors having opened the game with four double faults!
“Marin’s a hell of a competitor, a veteran player of our sport that has accomplished amazing things. I knew what to expect, so I knew it was never going to be easy,” De Minaur said after levelling the tie.
“I knew I had to bring all the intensity I could, be as solid as I could, and try to be solid but aggressive at the same time.
“I’m just happy to give our country a chance,” De Minaur continued. “Very happy with my performance.
“We (the team) play with passion, we play with pride, and I know our doubles guys will leave it all out there. I can’t wait to see them play.”
And so they did with Purcell declaring in his on-court interview after securing the tie 2-1: “There’s nothing ***** like it, mate. Anything green and gold, there’s nothing like it!”
Meanwhile captain Hewitt could hardly contain himself after his team had had cleared the latest hurdle to reach their 48th Davis Cup final and first in 19 years.
“It’s great. Obviously, Australia has a really rich history in this competition, and we have been fortunate enough to win it on a lot of occasions, back a long time ago,” Hewitt said.
“I know how much it meant for me as a player to get the opportunity to play in finals. So, I’m thrilled that these boys get that opportunity on Sunday.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of these guys and the heart and the passion and the pride that they are playing with out there.”
They now await to see who they will be playing for the 2022 title on Sunday, Canada or Italy, who are playing their semi on Saturday.