Hewitt, Groth rally Australia to Davis Cup quarterfinal win
It took two replacement players, including Davis Cup stalwart Lleyton Hewitt, to help restore some pride to Australian tennis.
Facing a 2-0 deficit after dropping the opening singles matches on Friday, Australia came back to win its Davis Cup quarterfinal on grass in the tropical northern city of Darwin on Sunday when Sam Groth and Hewitt won their matches in the reverse singles.
Hewitt clinched the quarterfinal with a stirring 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-3 win over Aleksandr Nedovyesov. He fell on to his back when Nedovyesov’s forehand went long and teammates Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis — who were both replaced in the reverse singles after losing their matches Friday — ran onto the court to hug him before he went to the net to shake hands with his Kazakh opponent.
"We didn’t have everything go our way this weekend, we had to rally," Hewitt said. "We were playing for the boys on the side of the court and the nation, as well."
Groth and the 34-year-old Hewitt, who said he plans to retire after next January’s Australian Open, won their doubles match Saturday to keep Australia alive.
Australia will now face Britain, which beat France in London, in September’s semifinals.
It was the first time since the Davis Cup final against the United States in 1939 that Australia has come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a tie — and it couldn’t have come at a better time. For the past two weeks, the country’s two top-ranked players — Bernard Tomic and Kyrgios — have been embroiled in controversy for their actions at Wimbledon and after the tournament.
Groth replaced Kyrgios in the reverse singles after the 20-year-old was criticized for his on-court demeanor in Friday’s loss in the second singles match against Kazakhstan, as well as at Wimbledon, where he was fined nearly $10,000 for racket abuse and swearing.
Australia was also playing without its highest-ranked player, No. 25-ranked Tomic, after Tennis Australia suspended him for critical comments against the national association during Wimbledon.
To make matters worse, Tomic was charged with resisting arrest in Miami Beach, Florida, last week after ignoring hotel security and police requests to turn down loud music in his luxury suite. His police mug shot featured prominently in Australian newspapers this weekend, right next to stories on the Davis Cup tie.
Groth opened play on Sunday by beating Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-6 (6), before Hewitt, subbing for Kokkinakis, demonstrated the kind of enthusiasm and gung-ho nationalism he’s exhibited over his 15-year career. He’s now played 57 Davis Cup singles matches, but never clinched an Australian tie in a deciding fifth match.
Hewitt, affected by a series of injuries over the past five years, might have played his last Davis Cup match for Australia if he had lost. But chances are he’ll be part of the team in the semifinals.
"I’ve said some of my greatest wins have been in Davis Cup, and some of my toughest losses," said Hewitt.
A few hours earlier, Groth was feeling the same.
"This is probably the most magical feeling I’ve had in tennis," said Groth, who had 29 aces in the match. "I had to have confidence in my game, and I came through under pressure."
Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev said "everything went their (Australia’s) way."
"We lost four tiebreaks," he said. "Tiebreaks are kind of a lottery. So the tennis gods were on the Aussie side. That’s sport. That’s tennis."
Australia captain Wally Masur also took a big gamble earlier, realizing he would be criticized for replacing the No. 41-ranked Kyrgios with No. 68 Groth.
"I’m either going to look silly or look like a genius," he said.
Most would now say genius. Kyrgios had said he felt mentally drained during Friday’s loss to No. 115 Nedovyesov.
"That’s no different to being physically exhausted after a big month or a big match," Masur said Sunday before Groth’s win. "It takes its toll."
"I kind of feel sorry for Nick in a way because it was almost a little bit of hysteria about some of the stuff that went on at Wimbledon. The press cycle just kind of went into overdrive."
Now, for the first time in a few weeks, the only press Australian tennis gets will likely be on the positive side.