Australia booked their place in the 2023 Davis Cup Final 8 in Malaga on 21-26 November after completing a 3-0 victory over Switzerland in front of over 3,500 fans in Manchester.
Singles wins for Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex de Minaur preceded another rock-solid performance from Max Purcell and Matt Ebden in the doubles as Lleyton Hewitt’s men condemned the Swiss to their third defeat – and second 3-0 loss – of the week.
“I’m just really proud of all these guys,” said Hewitt. “They’ve done all the hard work and they deserve this opportunity to go to the Finals.”
Only a 3-0 victory on Saturday could guarantee Australia’s onward progress to Malaga – with any other result leaving them nervously awaiting the outcome of Great Britain against France on Sunday – but last year’s runners-up seized control of their own destiny.
In Purcell and Ebden they have a formidable doubles pairing, and the duo proved clinical against Stricker and Huesler, winning their third match of the week together in straight sets, 6-2 6-4 in 72 minutes.
“We just have a great connection on court,” explained Purcell of the reason for their success this week. “Such a good understanding of where we’re moving, what our strengths are and how to cover the court, which is a huge part in doubles.”
While all three points were crucial, arguably the most important point of the day came from Kokkinakis who, having squandered several opportunities in defeat to Jack Draper on Wednesday, bounced back in a tricky test against Stricker in the opening match.
The world No. 74 set Hewitt’s men on their way after fending off the 21-year-old’s late surge to complete a 6-3 7-5 win in an hour and 38 minutes.
Having openly talked about his struggle to see through matches after engineering winning positions – a trait that emerged again when he lost five points in a row from 4-2 up in the deciding tiebreak on Wednesday - the 27-year-old was delighted to relieve the pressure on both himself, and his team.
“Honestly, [I’m feeling] pure relief,” said Kokkinakis, who had led 4-2 in the second set before letting Stricker back in - but ultimately broke again in the twelfth game and then served out victory.
“I was fighting some demons towards the end there,” Kokkinakis admitted. “I had a tough match the other day, felt like I should have closed it out, but I didn’t – all credit to Jack.
“This one, I got off to a good start and then a little voice came in my head again. I just tried to fight it, keep trying to focus on the next point. Just super happy with that one.”
After Kokkinakis conquered his demons, it was demon, as Australia’s No. 1 Alex De Minaur is often known, who conquered Huesler, proving too crafty for the Swiss No. 3, breaking him three times during a 6-4 6-3 triumph in 73 minutes.
That left Purell and Ebden to complete the job, and they duly did.
“Unbelievable,” Ebden reflect afterwards. “The first two boys did so good to put us up 2-0, made us feel so confident. Maybe even take the pressure off in some way, but we knew we still had to win this match.
“[It’s been a] huge team effort from everyone all week. Our captain has helped us fight every step of the week, plus Tony Roche [when] we were down [against the French]… huge team effort from everyone.”
Australia, still without a Davis Cup title since Hewitt himself played a part in their victory back in 2003, have another opportunity to secure the crown in November. Could this year be their time after their runner-up finish in 2022?
“Who knows,” said Hewitt. “We gave ourselves a great opportunity last year. The boys got a taste for it. We want to try and push a little bit harder and climb that mountain. I feel like I’ve got the boys in the team, in the squad, that are able to do that. Eight or nine weeks time, we’ll find out.”