Australia advance to Davis Cup final in staggering 19-year first

Australia, pictured here after advancing to the Davis Cup final for the first time in 19 years.
Australia have advanced to the Davis Cup final for the first time in 19 years. Image: Getty

Australia have advanced to the Davis Cup final for the first time in 19 years after an incredible upset victory over Croatia in Malaga. Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell teamed up to win the tie in a deciding doubles rubber on Friday.

After more heroics from Alex de Minaur had pulled Lleyton Hewitt's team back from the brink with his consummate tie-levelling singles win over Marin Cilic, Thompson and Purcell beat the Olympic doubles champions to seal the exhilarating 2-1 semi-final win. It was a triumph straight out of captain Lleyton Hewitt's gritty playbook - never say die as a doubles pairing who'd never teamed up before in the Davis Cup were left staring at defeat before rallying to down the formidable Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 6-4.

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On Sunday, the Australians will face Canada in the final, with the advantage now seeming to be in Australia's camp. There was shock when news emerged that the Wimbledon-winning partnership of Purcell and Matt Ebden wouldn't be starting - but Thompson, a singles hero in the quarter-final win over the Netherlands - proved his doubles expertise.

The Croatian duo are one of the top modern partnerships in doubles, having triumphed at Wimbledon and the Olympics last year. But the Australian combination, who didn't get a sniff of a chance for almost all of two sets, suddenly came alive.

Thompson fired some dazzling winners as they broke Mektic's serve from nowhere at 5-5 in the second set, and then went on to serve out for the set. They then produced one glorious game full of superb winners to break for 4-3 in the third, prompting huge celebrations among a small but vociferous Aussie fan club in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena.

"It's been a long time - we're a very proud Davis Cup nation and I'm just thrilled for these boys," Hewitt said afterwards. "They deserve to go out there and get a chance to play in a final - and now it's going to happen on Sunday."

Purcell told the crowd: "There's nothing f****** like it, mate! Honestly, nothing like it, the best thing I've ever experienced!"

Hewitt's team were left to celebrate reaching their first final since 2003 when the captain himself spearheaded the triumph over France. Fans went bonkers over the staggering scenes on social media.

Alex de Minaur's incredible win over Marin Cilic

Earlier, de Minaur delivered an incredible display to keep Australia's hopes alive, defeating Marin Cilic in a must-win second singles match following Kokkinakis' defeat by Borna Coric in the opening rubber. Just as he has done all year in the competition, de Minaur was immaculate at the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena as he snuffed out the danger from the erratic Cilic, outclassing him 6-2 6-2.

Hewitt started the day by delivering a pre-tie surprise, bringing in Kokkinakis to replace quarter-final hero Thompson, trusting his extra firepower might discomfit the resurgent Coric. But World No.26 Coric, returning to the sort of form that helped him reach the top dozen in the game before shoulder woes kept him out for a year, had all the answers and won convincingly 6-4 6-3.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell, pictured here celebrating Australia's win in the Davis Cup semi-final.
Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell celebrate Australia's win in the Davis Cup semi-final. (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

It meant all the onus was on de Minaur to continue his stellar run in the competition, needing to win his 10th singles rubber out of his last 11 against the evergreen Cilic - the last man to beat him in the Davis Cup in Croatia's 2021 group victory. Cilic, who'd won an epic quarter-final rubber against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, looked curiously flat, and sprayed around errors - 17, including seven double faults - as de Minaur remained rock-like, making only three unforced mistakes in the whole set.

Another break at the start of the second set enabled de Minaur to maintain his grip and Cilic looked beaten even before a 10th double fault of his sorry day helped consign the former US Open champ to the double break as the Australian raced to victory.

"I know my role," said de Minaur. "My role is to be tough as nails and be that guy that's just hopefully going to be getting those tough wins. I have been doing that well for a while, so very proud of myself."

with AAP

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