‘Dark places’: Demon back from the brink as Aussies march into Davis Cup semis

Alex de Minaur has dug deep, producing one of his gutsiest Davis Cup triumphs to help inspire Australia to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

Alex de Minaur’s magnificent resilience and the doubles mastery of Matt Ebden and Max Purcell has earned Australia a great escape in Malaga – straight into the semi-finals of the Davis Cup.

De Minaur produced his latest Houdini act with Lleyton Hewitt’s men on the verge of bowing out in their quarter-final tie on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) amid a barrage of brilliance from their young Czech Republic opponents.

His heroics enabled the Aussies, last year’s finalists, to take the match into a doubles decider, where the trusty excellence of the ‘M ‘n M’ combination of the 2022 Wimbledon champions Ebden and Purcell led them to a 2-1 win and a place in the last-four against Finland on Friday (Saturday AEDT).

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 by his Czech equivalent Jiri Lehecka, who served for a straight-sets blow-out at 5-4 in the second set.

It prompted a courtside exhortation from Hewitt assuring the “Demon’ he was one of the best returners in the world, and the player built in his captain’s image responded to the praise to then reel off 10 points on the bounce with a familiar scurrying combination of never-say-die defence and fearless attacking.

It set him on the way to turn the match around, earn a fantastic 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 triumph and pave the way for Ebden and Purcell to beat Lehecka and Adam Pavlasek 6-4 7-5 in the doubles.

It was the pair’s sixth win in seven doubles Davis Cup rubbers together, and they again looked every inch one of the best teams in the game.

That moment when you secure a spot in the semi-finals ????#DavisCupFinals | @TennisAustralia pic.twitter.com/pM5iMV2D3M

— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) November 22, 2023

Earlier, 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 rebounded brilliantly, looking poised to reel off four games on the bounce until de Minaur saved three break points at 2-3.

Utter determination, despite his evident weariness, dragged the Aussie through in a magnificent contest, as he earned a break in the 11th game of the stanza that was to prove crucial.

“I don’t know,” shrugged the exhausted de Minaur, when asked on court how he’d prevailed in the two-and-a-half hour scrap. 

“I guess it’s part of my identity. Ultimately, it’s always going to be tough. 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 him at one stage. He played unbelievable – I’m just lucky to have found a way to beat him.” 

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 he broke in the opening game to set out his stall.

One of the form players on tour over the past couple of months, Machac retained the extra firepower that constantly had the Sydneysider on the retreat as he couldn’t handle the 26 winners from the 23-year-old.

Hewitt’s men believe they can go one better than last year when they reached the final against Canada, who were knocked out by Finland on Tuesday, as they seek to lift the ‘World Cup of men’s tennis’ for the first time in 20 years.

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