Lleyton Hewitt’s Davis Cup team, built in his own battling image, have fought back from the brink of elimination to keep their hopes well and truly alive with a 2-1 comeback triumph over France in Manchester.
Not for the first time, their last-ditch saviours were Alex de Minaur, who prevailed in his must-win singles against Ugo Humbert, and the doubles maestros Matt Ebden and Max Purcell, who won for the second day running in a crucial final rubber.
Their triumph on Thursday (early hours of Friday AEST) at the AO Arena ensures the Australians now have more than a fighting chance of making the finals in Malaga again in November.
Defeat would almost certainly have condemned last year’s finalists to an early exit in this week’s round-robin group stage at the English venue but Purcell, who had lost the opening rubber to Adrian Mannarino on his Cup singles debut, bounced back in immaculate style with his former 2022 Wimbledon-winning partner in the decider.
The old “M&M” double act outclassed French veterans Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 7-5 6-3 to give the Aussies the 2-1 victory that now throws their four-team group wide open, with only the top two to qualify for the finals in Spain.
Australia, Britain, and France all have a win each, with Hewitt’s team still in a potentially strong position to qualify if they can beat Switzerland, who lost their opening match to the French, in their final tie on Saturday.
With every game and every set won counting, a 3-0 victory over Stan Wawrinka and his Swiss mates would probably secure their their trip to Spain.
For Aussie No2 Purcell, frustrated to lose to the canny southpaw veteran Mannarino 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 on his singles bow, there was a touch of relief as well as ecstasy as he and Ebden combined expertly for the crucial triumph, and always looked in control just as they had done against Brits Dan Evans and Neal Skupski the previous night.
And de Minaur also felt he’d earned “redemption” after his Wednesday loss to Evans as he produced a far superior effort to tame Humbert 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 for his eighth win in his last 10 Davis Cup singles rubbers.
De Minaur, up to a career-best world No12, knew defeat against Humbert, who’d beaten him on a hard court in Atlanta in July, would be the end of the road for the team and the pressure summoned an inspired spell from him at the end of the opening set when he won 11 out of 13 points, roaring from 5-6 down to a comfortable tiebreak winner.
Then, egged on by the passionate Hewitt at courtside, he stepped up another gear at the start of the second to move into a 3-0 lead as southpaw Humbert, the better player for much of the opening stanza, began to get increasingly erratic and frustrated as the gap in quality began to tell.