Australia’s battling tennis men have defied the odds, with a makeshift doubles pairing steering them to victory over Croatia and into their first Davis Cup final in 19 years on a nerve-shredding evening in Spain. 

After more heroics from Alex de Minaur had pulled Lleyton Hewitt’s team back from the brink with his consummate tie-levelling singles win over Marin Cilic, Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell beat the Olympic doubles champions to seal an exhilarating 2-1 semi-final win in Malaga.

It was a triumph straight out of captain Lleyton Hewitt’s gritty playbook — never say die as a doubles pairing who had never teamed up before in the Davis Cup were left staring at defeat before rallying to down the formidable Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 6-4.

On Sunday, the Australians will face either Canada or Italy in the final, with the force now seeming to be with Hewitt’s heroes.

There had been shock when the news emerged that the Wimbledon-winning partnership of Purcell and Matt Ebden wouldn’t be starting — but Thompson, a singles hero in the quarter-final win over the Netherlands, proved his doubles expertise as a nerveless stand-in.

The Croatian duo is one of the top modern partnerships in doubles, having triumphed at Wimbledon and the Olympics last year but the Australian combination, who didn’t get a sniff of a chance for almost all of two sets, suddenly came alive.

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Thompson fired some dazzling winners as they broke Mektic’s serve from nowhere at 5-5 in the second set, and then went on to serve out for the stanza.

They then produced one glorious game full of superb winners to break for 4-3 in the third, prompting huge celebrations among a small but vociferous Aussie fan club in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena.

Minutes later, Hewitt’s team was celebrating reaching its first final since 2003 when the captain himself spearheaded the triumph over France.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell
Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell celebrate after winning their doubles match against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.(Getty Images: Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images)

Earlier, de Minaur delivered a masterclass to keep their hopes alive, defeating Marin Cilic in a must-win second singles match following Kokkinakis’s defeat by Borna Coric in the opening rubber.

Just as he has done all year in the competition that so often seems to propel him to new heights, de Minaur was quite immaculate at the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena as he snuffed out the danger from the erratic Cilic, outclassing him 6-2, 6-2.

Hewitt started the day by delivering a pre-tie surprise, bringing in Kokkinakis to replace quarter-final hero Thompson, trusting his extra firepower might discomfit the resurgent Coric.

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But world No.26 Coric, returning to the sort of form that helped him reach the top dozen in the game before shoulder woes kept him out for a year, had all the answers, winning convincingly 6-4 6-3.

It meant all the onus was on de Minaur to continue his stellar run in the competition, needing to win his 10th singles rubber out of his last 11 against the evergreen Cilic, the last man to beat him in the Davis Cup in Croatia’s 2021 group victory.

Cilic, who’d won an epic quarter-final rubber against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, looked curiously flat, and sprayed around errors — 17, including seven double faults — as de Minaur remained rock-like, making only three unforced mistakes in the whole set.

Another break at the start of the second set enabled de Minaur to maintain his grip and Cilic looked beaten even before a 10th double fault of his sorry day helped consign the former US Open champ to the double break as the Australian raced to victory.

Kyrgios to compete in Saudi Arabia for Australian Open preparation

Hungry to kick on, Nick Kyrgios is heading to Saudi Arabia intent on gaining a “head start” on his rivals ahead of his latest grand slam title push in Melbourne.

After calling a premature end to his breakout 2022 singles season in early October, Kyrgios will ramp up his summer preparations at the Diriyah Tennis Cup exhibition event from December 8-10.

Nick Kyrgios clenches his fist as he waves to the crowd after a tennis match at the Japan Open.
Nick Kyrgios will start his Australian Open preparation in Saudi Arabia.(Getty: Koji Watanabe)

Australia’s Wimbledon finalist is seeking priceless match practice against some of the world’s premier players including former No.1 Daniil Medvedev and fellow heavyweights Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Taylor Fritz.

“It’s a bonus for me to be able to play these matches and feel that match pressure still throughout my training block is going to be crucial for me and use that to get a bit of a head start on everyone else that’s not able to play these matches,” Kyrgios said.

In addition to his charge to a maiden grand slam final on London’s hallowed grass courts, Kyrgios also made the US Open quarter-finals, claimed a seventh career title in Washington and carved out a 37-10 win-loss record.

Only tennis titans Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal posted better strike rates.

The 27-year-old Australian No.1 is at last starting to fulfill his potential and is determined to break his grand slam duck in 2023.

An unseeded second-round loser to the top-ranked Medvedev this year, the new and improved Kyrgios will be among the favourites when he returns for his 10th Australian Open tilt from January 16-29.

“I think before the season started, I was having a conversation with myself that I wanted to kind of reinvent myself on the tour,” said tennis’s most mercurial talent.

“I feel like the last couple of years with COVID and everything that was going on, I really felt like I kind of lost my identity a little bit on the tennis circuit.

“This year I kind of reminded everyone that I’m still one of the best players in the world and was able to do that on the big stage — obviously Wimbledon, US Open, and I also won a title.

“I guess I had a little moment with myself at the start.”