By Ian Chadband
Alex de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkinakis were both defeated as an inspired British team swept to victory over Australia in their Davis Cup Finals group stage clash in Manchester on Wednesday (local time).
Jack Draper first outstayed Kokkinakis 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in a classic, big-hitting duel before Dan Evans repelled a stirring comeback from Alex de Minaur to prevail 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
Alex de Minaur congratulates Daniel Evans after their Davis Cup rubber in Manchester.Credit: Getty Images
The victory puts huge pressure on Lleyton Hewitt’s team to now qualify for the tournament’s ‘final 8’ stage in Malaga as they have to finish in the top two in this week’s group stage if they’re to make it through.
With every game, set and match result counting, Max Purcell and Matt Ebden, the 2022 Wimbledon champions, were set for a key doubles match, needing a victory to avoid a 3-0 opening whitewash from GB.
Last year’s runners-up, the Aussies almost certainly won’t make it to Spain in November if they don’t quickly lick their wounds and back up strongly against France in their next tie on Thursday. The French won their opening tie against Switzerland 3-0.
The British hosts, playing in front of a partisan 9000 crowd in the AO Arena, caused a surprise by dropping their No.1 Cameron Norrie and all-time great Andy Murray from Wednesday’s line-up, but were left hailing their fresh prince in 21-year-old Draper after Kokkinakis had served for the match in the final set of the opening rubber.
Draper also then roared back from 4-2 down in the first match-deciding tiebreaker he had ever played at tour level before prevailing after two hours 50 minutes.
It was a high-quality and exhilarating opening contest between two heavy hitters but Draper, who’d just returned from a magnificent breakthrough US Open where he reached the last 16, proved too good for the Adelaide man, who’d been trusted by Hewitt to play the key starter role despite a disappointing display in last year’s Malaga Finals.
Kokkinakis emerged triumphant in a 63-minute opening stanza during which he saved a set point but then couldn’t crack the exciting left-hander’s serve until the ninth game of the decider, with Draper then bouncing back and going on to seal victory with a glorious backhand clincher down the line.
It was down to de Minaur, who’d won seven of his last eight Davis Cup singles and was playing his first match as a world top-12 player, to save the day, but he started slowly against the attacking Evans before his familiar never-say-die excellence belatedly began to wear down the Briton, who’d won their only two previous meetings.
But Evans powered away to a 4-0 lead in the decider and, despite struggling slightly with injury, still managed to hold off de Minaur’s familiar battling response, even though he reduced the arrears to 4-3, as he sealed the British triumph after two hours and nine minutes.
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