Australia comfortably advanced to the Davis Cup championship for the second consecutive year after dominating Finland with a 2-0 victory on Friday night in Málaga.
Alexei Popyrin secured his debut Davis Cup victory in the first match, remaining composed during a highly intense opening set and ultimately defeating Otto Virtanen 7-6 (5), 6-2. Alex de Minaur sealed the tie with a stellar performance, triumphing over Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4, 6-3 and propelling Australia into the final.
Lleyton Hewitt, the captain of Australia’s Davis Cup team, stated that nothing can be taken for granted in the competition. Regardless of the format, every match is expected to be challenging. Additionally, the team only has one day to prepare for their next opponents, which presents its own difficulties.
Similar to the first match in Finland, the sizeable group of Finnish expats living nearby made their presence known in the José María Martín Carpena Arena. They filled the stands and cheered loudly until the very end. This enthusiastic energy had a strong impact on Popyrin, who had difficulty controlling his nerves in the first set. However, he was able to find his powerful serve when it counted and ultimately defeated Virtanen with his superior skills, securing a significant victory under immense pressure.
“I am feeling a level of nervousness that I have never felt before in my life. This is my first time playing in a Davis Cup and winning my first live rubber match is a huge achievement,” stated Popyrin. “I had to remain composed and concentrate on my serve, taking advantage of any opportunities that arose.”
The fact that Finland made it to the semi-finals was unexpected, but what was even more surprising was their victory over reigning champions Canada, despite their top player, Ruusuvuori, being absent due to a shoulder injury. It was evident that their match against Australia would be extremely difficult without their sole top-150 singles player. Although Ruusuvuori’s shoulder had healed enough for him to play, he was unable to serve at full strength.
During the 95-minute match, De Minaur utilized his skills of depth, defense, and attacking short balls to maneuver Ruusuvuori around the court and dominate from the baseline. Ultimately, De Minaur’s consistency proved to be the difference, leading to another final appearance for the Australian and further solidifying his successful year.
De Minaur expressed that the match was a relief for him. He emphasized the team’s extreme effort, as mentioned by Lleyton. Alexei made a comeback after not representing Australia for three to four years and played against a player ranked 170 but performing at a top-50 level, ultimately achieving a significant victory.
Following their defeat against Canada in the previous year’s championship, Australia will strive to achieve a higher outcome against either Italy or Serbia in the upcoming tournament.
Hewitt expressed his pride in the team and their hard work. Despite the challenge of facing any opponent on Sunday, they will give their all on the court.