Never-say-die ‘Demon’ inspires Aussies to Davis Cup win

Ian Chadband |

Alex de Minaur is the toast of Australian tennis after his spectacular Houdini act helped deliver the Davis Cup team from the brink of defeat and straight into the semi-finals in Malaga.

Even Matt Ebden and Max Purcell, the world-beating doubles team who finally sealed the wholly unlikely 2-1 comeback win over the Czech Republic in Wednesday’s quarter-final, recognised the real hero of the hour.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, live,” said Ebden.

“I’ve seen this stuff on TV back in the day, comebacks like that when your backs against the wall – but what Alex did to give us the chance to come out here and play and fight for the win was incredible. I was lost for words.”

Already 1-0 down after Jordan Thompson had been blitzed 6-4 7-5 by Tomas Machac, Aussie No.1 de Minaur was being blown away in the second singles match by the inspired Jiri Lehecka, who served for a straight-sets blow-out at 5-4 and ended just two points from a tie-sealing victory.

Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell.
Matthew Ebden (L) and Max Purcell provided the decisive doubles win in the Davis Cup quarter-final.

At courtside before that game, captain Lleyton Hewitt had assured the “Demon’ he was one of the best returners in the world – and the player built in his skipper’s image responded by reeling off 10 straight points with a familiar scurrying combination of never-say-die defence and fearless attacking.

It set him on the way to a fantastic 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 triumph and paved the way for Ebden and Purcell to then beat Lehecka and Adam Pavlasek 6-4 7-5 in the doubles with a display Hewitt called a “clinic”.

“We just knew we had to come out and support Alex because what he did was do or die, incredible. So I’ve gotta give it to him for today,” said Ebden, after enjoying his sixth win in seven Cup doubles with Purcell.

“That really is a symbol of our team spirit and fighting culture – I can’t wait for the next one,” he added, referring to Friday’s (Saturday AEDT) semi-final against surprise packets Finland.

“You know, I prided myself on never-say-die attitude – and Alex is certainly in the same vein with that. Yeah, we’re just awfully proud of him as a team,” enthused Hewitt.

The 22-year-old Lehecka’s power and accuracy had de Minaur on the ropes for much of the match. Even after he’d gone 2-0 down in the final set, the ever-improving world No.31 responded, looking poised to reel off four games on the bounce until de Minaur somehow scrambled to save three break points at 2-3.

Nearly doubled up with weariness, determination dragged de Minaur through in a magnificent two-and-a-half hour contest, as he earned the ultimately crucial break in the 11th game of the stanza.

“I guess it’s part of my identity,” shrugged de Minaur.

“You’re always going to be in a very dark places in matches but maybe I’ve got that reputation of never giving up and I’m competing to the end.

“Lleyton was telling me all match I’m one of the best returners in the world and I’m bound to break Lehecka at one stage. He played unbelievable; I’m just lucky to have found a way to beat him.”

Lleyton Hewitt watched de Minaur.
Captain Lleyton Hewitt felt Alex de Minaur’s win was all heart as he watched in awe in Malaga.

Hewitt had plumped for the experience of Thompson in the opening singles, despite the claims of the higher-ranked Purcell and Alexei Popyrin, who had been drafted in to replace the injured Thanasi Kokkinakis.

But Machac, 22 places below ‘Tommo’ in the world rankings, was in scintillating form from the outset as the Sydneysider couldn’t handle the 26 winners from the 23-year-old.

But Hewitt is right to feel his team should now fear no-one as they seek to go one better than last year and lift the ‘World Cup of men’s tennis’ for the first time in 20 years, when he played in the winning outfit.