A disappointing display against Croatia has left Australia’s hopes of reaching the Davis Cup quarter-finals in disarray.
Alex de Minaur’s mid-match singles resurgence could not spare Australia from a whitewash Davis Cup defeat to Croatia, leaving its quarter-final hopes in tatters.
Croatia’s world No. 1 doubles pairing Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic secured a 6-3 6-1 demolition of John Peers and de Minaur to complete a 3-0 victory.
Australia must now rely on beating Hungary 3-0 in two days’ time, as well as for Hungary to defeat Croatia in the same dominant fashion to have any chance of making it out of group D.
The tie started in the worst way possible, with young gun Alexei Popyrin suffering a surprise defeat to world No. 276 Borna Gojo – replacing the injured Borna Coric – in a match Australia had to win.
Popyrin later described his 7-6(7-5) 7-5 loss as “probably the most painful” of his burgeoning career after he clinched a tight three-setter over the same opponent in Melbourne in February.
“I had chances in the first set, had chances in the second set, but it was, I guess, just one of those matches where he was just really feeling his serve,” Popyrin said.
“He served a really high percentage, he served really well, didn’t hit many second serves at all in the match, didn’t give me much to go off.
“I got those opportunities just based off my returning. I think he played much better than he did in Melbourne, to be honest. He’s a good player, and his ranking doesn’t really justify his level.”
De Minaur, who won only four of his previous 14 matches leading into the Davis Cup finals, needed to beat 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic to keep Australia’s hopes alive but quickly fell behind.
The 22-year-old – suddenly re-energised and bringing team captain Lleyton Hewitt to his feet – rallied from a set and 1-3 down to force a deciding set against Cilic and then surged 2-0 ahead.
At that stage, Cilic was drowning in errors after a brilliant start as de Minaur clinched the break with an outrageous, squash-like half-volley that passed the Croatian and clipped the opposite baseline.
But Cilic steadied again and powered past de Minaur to post a 6-1 5-7 6-4 triumph.
“I came out with Marin playing some incredible tennis for probably a set-and-a-half,” de Minaur said.
“I managed to dig in, dig deep, find something out there to try to fight my way and claw my way back into the match.
“I managed to somehow sneak that second set, and I’m just disappointed I wasn’t able to consolidate the break and get a point for Australia.
“That’s what really hurts me. If I go out there and I finish the job in that sense and can come away with the win, then maybe this doubles is completely different.”
Hewitt replaced Alex Bolt with de Minaur in a desperate bid to get something out of the tie, but he and Peers were no match for Pavic and Mektic.
“It’s obviously disappointing (and) not the way we would have liked to have started the campaign,” Hewitt said.
“But Croatia played extremely well in all three matches, to be honest.
“Their No. 2 guy (Gojo) played well above his ranking. We had seen him play quite a bit. We knew when he’s on, he’s extremely tough. He obviously has a big serve.
“It could have been a different story if Alexei took some of those chances early in the first set, but then Borna got confident as the match went on … which put a little bit more pressure on Alexei.”
Originally published as Davis Cup: Australia’s hopes of advancing in tatters after comprehensive 3-0 loss to Croatia