'This is painful': Aussies make horror start in Davis Cup disaster

Alexei Popyrin and Alex de Minaur, pictured here in action at the David Cup finals.
Alexei Popyrin and Alex de Minaur both lost to hand Croatia a 2-0 lead. Image: AAP

Australia have suffered the worst-possible start to their Davis Cup finals campaign in Turin, thrashed 3-0 by Croatia in their opening tie.

After Alexei Popyrin suffered a shock 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 loss to Borna Gojo - a late stand-in ranked more than 200 places behind him - Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur saw his excellent comeback attempt thwarted 6-1 5-7 6-4 on Thursday by Marin Cilic.

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The Croatians took a commanding 2-0 lead over Australia, who were so desperate to get something out of the tie that they later threw de Minaur into the remaining doubles rubber on a short break.

However that move also backfired as de Minaur and John Peers were blitzed 6-3 6-1 by the world's No.1 pairing, Olympic champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.

Not even the emotional encouragement of captain Lleyton Hewitt was enough to lift his two top players as they ran into opponents in inspired form at the Pala Alpitour.

Australia will now have to beat Hungary on Saturday, probably by a 3-0 margin, to give themselves a chance of making the quarter-finals.

De Minaur had to pull out some of the magic that had seen him go unbeaten in singles in the last edition of the men's World Cup of tennis two years ago, and for a while he did just that as he fought back in astonishing fashion from 6-1 3-1 down to take their compelling rubber into a decider.

But the 33-year-old Cilic, who'd defeated de Minaur in a US Open thriller three years ago, rediscovered his irresistible form of the opening set to oust the Sydneysider in a topsy-turvy two hours 10 minute affair.

"Alex is such a great fighter and it's not the first time he's come back in a match like that," said Cilic, praising the 22-year-old opponent.

Australia's Davis Cup team, pictured here before their clash with Croatia.
Lleyton Hewitt, Alex de Minaur, Alexei Popyrin, John Millman, Alex Bolt and John Peers look on before Australia's clash with Croatia at the Davis Cup finals. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)

Alexei Popyrin's shock loss to World No.276

Popyrin, the World No.61, had earlier been expected to give the team a flying start against the depleted Croats, who put World No.276 Gojo into the singles at late notice.

Yet the big-serving understudy, filling in for injured luminary Borna Coric, produced the performance of his life over one hour and 49 minutes.

"This was probably the most painful loss I've had," said the 22-year-old Popyrin.

"I had chances in the first and second sets but I did hit some mistakes on important points and I think that let me down."

Popyrin had already beaten Gojo in Melbourne in a tight three-setter in February, and the Aussie No.3 was the obvious choice for Hewitt as the second-string singles player.

He began only his second Davis Cup appearance in confident style but after earning five break points on Gojo's big delivery in the Croat's first three service games, his failure to convert came back to haunt him.

Popyrin played a poor opening set tiebreaker, featuring a series of unforced errors that cost him the stanza but, despite gifting up 27 unforced errors throughout the match, he had not been remotely threatened on serve until the 11th game of the second set.

A nervy double fault and a stray long backhand suddenly gave Gojo the chance to serve for the match, which the 23-year-old took with aplomb.

with AAP

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