Captain Lleyton Hewitt has sprung a surprise before Australia’s Davis Cup semi-final against Croatia, bringing in Thanasi Kokkinakis to replace Jordan Thompson, the hero of their last-eight tie.
Kokkinakis had been expected to play in Tuesday’s quarter-final against the Netherlands, but Hewitt went instead with Thompson, who has an excellent Davis Cup singles record, and was vindicated by the Sydneysider’s battling comeback win over Tallon Griekspoor.
As the Australians seek a place in the final for the first time in nearly two decades on Friday, it was expected Jordan would retain his place against rejuvenated Croatian star Borna Coric, especially as he has beaten the world No.26 before.
Yet Hewitt, perhaps reflecting on the gruelling nature of Thompson’s three-hour win, has gambled instead on the discomfiting power of world No.95 Kokkinakis, who’s ranked 11 places lower than Thompson and lost his only encounter with Coric earlier this year.
At the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena, world No.24 Alex de Minaur, who himself earned a hard-fought comeback win in the Netherlands tie to seal the victory, will face the evergreen Marin Cilic (No.17) in the pivotal second singles.
The 34-year-old Cilic was the last man to beat de Minaur, who’s on a six-match unbeaten singles run in the competition, in last year’s group stage tie, won by the Croats.
If the tie comes down to a deciding doubles, Australia’s Wimbledon champions Matt Ebden and Max Purcell will face the pair who won the same title in 2021, Olympic gold medallists Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic.
Australia, in their first semi-final for five years, are seeking to reach the final of the World Cup of men’s team tennis for the first time since 2003 when Hewitt was the playing spearhead of the side that defeated Spain 3-1 in the final in Melbourne.
That was under the tournament’s old home-and-away, best-of-five five-setters format, but this is the first time the Australians have played in the semi-final of the new Davis Cup finals-week.
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