Malaga, Spain, Nov 25 (EFE).- Underdog Australia rallied from a early deficit and then won the deciding doubles to defeat Croatia 2-1 here Friday and book their spot in the Davis Cup final.
The second-most successful Davis Cup nation after the United States has not won tennis’ premier international team competition since 2003 and is making do this week without arguably their most talented player, 2022 Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios (absent for personal reasons).
But the Aussies showed plenty of championship mettle on Friday and have now earned the chance to seek their 29th title.
The Green and Gold got off to a rocky start in the opening singles when 95th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis fell to Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3.
Coric ruled the baseline for most of the match and sealed the first set with a series of strong ground strokes, capped off by a down-the-line forehand winner.
The 26th-ranked Croatian then earned a key break of serve midway through the second set and clinched victory a few games later with an ace out wide in the ad court.
Australia had their backs against the wall at that juncture, but 24th-ranked Alex de Minaur was more than up to the task in a shocking 6-2, 6-2 victory over experienced, big-serving Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion.
The speedy 23-year-old broke serve early on and then continued to frustrate the 17th-ranked Cilic with his defense in grabbing a 5-2 lead; he then wrapped up the first set a game later.
De Minaur remained relentless on defense in the second set against a surprisingly out-of-sorts Cilic, who collapsed under the weight of his own unforced errors.
After two lopsided singles matches, all the tension was saved for the deciding doubles, in which the Australian duo of Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell rallied from a set down to defeat Croatia’s Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 6-4.
Croatia won a tightly contested first set when Mektic poached and angled off a backhand volley winner in the tiebreaker, but Australia snagged a crucial service break in the 11th game of the second set and forced a decider when Purcell struck a volley winner.
The key moment of the match came midway through the third set when Thompson struck a backhand down-the-line return winner past Pavic, who had moved too soon, to give the Australians a crucial service break at 4-3.
Three games later, Purcell put his squad into the final for the first time in 19 years with a service winner.
“It’s been a long time. 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,” captain Lleyton Hewitt, who was a key part of Australia’s last title run in 2003, said afterward.
Next up for Australia on Sunday will be the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal pitting Canada, who are seeking their first Davis Cup title, against Italy, whose lose championship came in 1976. EFE