De Minaur, Popyrin power Australia into Davis Cup final

Ian Chadband |

Alexei Popyrin has been handed the No.2 singles spot to launch Australia’s Davis Cup semi-final.
Alexei Popyrin has been handed the No.2 singles spot to launch Australia’s Davis Cup semi-final.

Lleyton Hewitt has declared his close-knit tennis band of brothers will give it “a hell of a shake” to bring back the Davis Cup to Australia after they roared into another final in Malaga.

Following their 2-0 victory over Finland in Friday’s semi-final, executed superbly without a dropped set in singles wins for Alexei Popyrin and Alex de Minaur, team captain Hewitt said he couldn’t be prouder of their achievement in making back-to-back finals.

And even though they’ll be facing either a Serbian side led by world No.1 Novak Djokovic or an Italian team inspired by young superstar Jannik Sinner in Sunday’s (Monday AEDT) final, the inspirational de Minaur was adamant: “No-one really wants to play us.”

Popyrin wins
Alexei Popyrin was thrilled to win his first Davis Cup rubber for two years against Finland. (AP PHOTO)

He delivered once more for Australia, taking an 11th victory in his last 13 Cup singles matches, sealing Friday’s (Saturday AEDT) win by defeating Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4 6-3.

It had followed a superb win from teammate Popyrin, who defied jangling nerves to earn a 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 victory over Otto Virtanen.

It meant the Aussies’ crack doubles team of Max Purcell and Matt Ebden weren’t even needed as Hewitt’s crew set up a final on Sunday against either Serbia or Italy, who meet in Saturday’s (Sunday AEDT) second semi-final.

Naturally, it will be a tall order on the fast-paced hard court at the Palacio de deportes Martin Carpena, but Hewitt has de Minaur, a man who just keeps growing in stature in the gold-and-green, to call on as 28-times champs Australia, in a 49th final, seek a first win in the World Cup of men’s tennis in 20 years.

“We’re a very solid squad, a lot of depth in every single position, and if we can get ourselves to a deciding doubles, we’ve got an unbelievable pairing as well,” said de Minaur.

“So we singles guys have just got do our best to try and get a win and let the doubles guys do the job.

“Hopefully we can go one better this year,” he added, recalling the 2-0 defeat by Canada in 2022.

De Minaur had been the hero on Wednesday, pulling out an extraordinary comeback win over Jiri Lehecka with Australia on the verge of defeat in their quarter-final with the Czech Republic.

But he was happy to pass the laurels to Popyrin, a late squad replacement who’d been asked to take on the troublesome ‘second singles’ role by Hewitt.

“Alexei hasn’t played for Australia in a very long time (two years), had a massive match today against a very high quality opponent and dug super deep,” said de Minaur.

Popyrin managed to deliver a rock solid game, making only 11 unforced errors to his erratic opponent’s 25, to prevail in just under an hour-and-a-half.

“It was probably the biggest win of my career,” he admitted. “To win a match that means so much to us, it’s an honour and something I’ll never forget.

“Nothing compares to this.

De Minaur believes
Alex de Minaur believes Australia can win the Davis Cup for the first time in 20 years. (AP PHOTO)

“I thought I was ready but when I came out and heard the two sets of fans chanting so hard, but it was nerves that I’ve never experienced before.”

It wasn’t easy. The pressure was on with Thanasi Kokkinakis, the injured teammate he’d replaced, Purcell and Jordan Thompson having all lost opening singles ties in this year’s competition, and Popyrin struggled too against a big-hitting 22-year-old going for broke.

But after repelling a set point in the opening stanza, Popyrin’s solidity in comparison to his increasingly erratic opponent helped silence a noisy contingent of Finnish fans, who’d been hoping to cheer their underdogs to a first-ever final.

De Minaur, cheered on by his excited mum, then didn’t need similar heroics to Wednesday’s as he overcame the loss of the first two games.

With relentless flat-hitting accuracy, he then dominated Finland’s only top-100 ranked player Ruusuvuori, who’d been passed fit to play after missing their sensational quarter-final win over champions Canada on Tuesday.

AAP