Australia’s best chance to win the Davis Cup in a decade is here

6 Have your say

    It’s been 14 years since Australia won the Davis Cup. 14 years. That’s a bloody long time in anyone’s books, but the 2017 run for the men from Down Under has a special feel about it.

    On Friday night, from 10pm (AEST), Nick Kyrgios, Jordan Thompson, John Peers and Thanasi Kokkinakis will look to send Australia to its first final since that 3-1 victory in Melbourne over Spain 14 years ago.

    The men in that team for the 2003 edition were Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Philippoussis, Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge, with the legendary John Fitzgerald serving as coach.

    Since then, it’s been constant heartbreak for the Aussies. They have spent time in the Asian zone group, been bundled out at the first hurdle, and had to play in world group playoffs, including last year, more times than they would like to think about.

    The 2003 side experienced tough times too, but at the other end of the spectrum, suffering a 3-1 loss in 2000 against the same Spanish team, before losing on home soil against France in 2001.

    Fitzgerald’s team failed to qualify for the 2002 final, but got back to the big dance in 2003, smashing Spain 3-1 on a purpose-made grass court at Rod Laver Arena, with Philippoussis sending the winner home in the fourth rubber of the tie.

    Now, back to the semi-finals for the first time since 2015, Australia are in form, looking strong in camp, and have Hewitt at the helm.

    2015 had a slightly similar feel about it, however Australia had a much younger team and were coming up against one of the best in the game, Andy Murray away from home.

    Kokkinakis, who has received a recall to Hewitt’s team for the upcoming tie, lost the first rubber to Murray in straight sets. It was then over to Bernard Tomic, who for obvious reasons is not playing this year, to level things up.

    Kokkinakis-French

    (AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA)

    Murray was back on court the following day alongside brother Jamie in the doubles, with Australia represented by Sam Groth and Hewitt. The match looked over in the fourth, but the Aussie pair won a tense tiebreaker, before going down 6-4 in the final set.

    Tomic was then blasted off the court by Andy Murray, with the British going on to win the final against Argentina.

    There was no shame with a young team in losing away from home against one of the greatest players of our generation, but 2017 has a very, very different feel.

    For starters, Kyrgios is a point of difference.

    The Canberran was just dumped out of the US Open at the first hurdle by countryman John Millman, but with injuries plaguing his year, Davis Cup has been the catalyst for any form he has produced.

    He started in the team that beat the Czech Republic, then got over the USA, when he was having more fun on court than ever, and he followed it up with a huge US hard court season, beating Novak Djokovic twice and making strong runs in Masters tournaments.

    Kyrgios himself credited his form to Davis Cup. He loves playing for the man known as ‘Rusty’. This week, he has again come out saying he wants to win the tournament, and that it’s his primary goal in 2017.

    He will be joined by Thompson or Kokkinakis on the singles court. Kokkinakis is one of the tennis stories of 2017 – and yes, I realise there are plenty of them, capped off by Sloane Stephens’ win at the US Open. But Kokkinakis has spent almost two years out of the sport, and within six months of his return, made the final at Los Cabos. On top of that, he played in three grand slam events, even if he didn’t do a great deal of damage.

    His form has been superb all things considered, and there’s every chance he is going to be named to play singles on Day 1 against Belgium in Brussels.

    Thompson completes the singles part of the team. He could well be moved to doubles, but it would be a risk to flirt with the winning strategy.

    Jordan Thompson US Open

    (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    Thommo’s form has wavered at the back-end of 2017, but he always rises to this level. His court movement and acceleration is phenomenal, and his defensive style can suit clay courts.

    He recently overcame world No.11 Jack Sock at the final grand slam of the year, and there’s every chance that even if he is overlooked on Day 1, he could back up in the reverse singles on Day 3.

    In truth, playing on clay courts is probably Australia’s biggest problem. It’ll be their only foray away from home soil in 2017, after hosting the Czechs and USA. They will have the honour of hosting the final should they make it, with the last ties against both Serbia and France being away from home.

    The final member of the team is John Peers. He is a difference maker for Australia and has carried the doubles on his back over the last 18 months. He is world No.2 in doubles for a reason, and with either Thompson or Kokkinakis beside him, instead of an out of sorts Groth, it’s a huge opportunity for Australia.

    There is nothing quite as difficult as playing an away tie on clay for Australians. The Belgians have a strong team as well – David Goffin is ranked 12th in the world, while Steve Darcis is consistent, especially on clay.

    They may fall down in doubles, with Ruben Bemelmans and Arthur De Greef lining up after Joris De Loore was forced to pull out of the tie.

    Belgium always seem to rise in what is the World Cup of tennis, but they barely scraped past Italy in the quarter-finals, and don’t have a world No.1-calibre player like Great Britain did.

    Kyrgios has shown he can play on clay previously and this is shaping up as Australia’s tie to lose. If they can silence the crowd early and adapt to indoor clay conditions, this is their best chance in more than a decade.

    The final will be at home, they gel as a team, and all seem to lift playing under Hewitt.

    It feels like this is it. Australia must win the Davis Cup in 2017.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.