Australia, Russia storm into semi-finals

Updated January 10, 2020

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SYDNEY: Argentina’s Guido Pella serves during the ATP Cup quarter-fnal against Karen Khachanov of Russia at the Ken Rosewall Arena on Thursday.—Reuters
SYDNEY: Argentina’s Guido Pella serves during the ATP Cup quarter-fnal against Karen Khachanov of Russia at the Ken Rosewall Arena on Thursday.—Reuters

SYDNEY: A dynamic Nick Kyrgios and dogged Alex de Minaur powered Australia into the ATP Cup semi-finals Thursday with an epic 2-1 win against the Tim Henman-led Britain, and they were joined by Russia who overpowered Argentina.

The home team clinched the tie after an 18-16 third-set tiebreaker in the doubles to set up a potential blockbuster last-four clash against Rafael Nadal’s Davis Cup-winning Spain who face Belgium on Friday.

Russia, spearheaded by world number five Daniil Medvedev won both their singles to sweep past Argentina.

Their reward is a semi-final against either Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, or Canada.

Kyrgios crushed Cameron Norrie in the opening singles 6-2, 6-2 before Dan Evans came through a memorable showdown against De Minaur 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-2) to set up the decisive, winner-takes-all doubles.

Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt took a huge gamble by dropping regular doubles pair John Peers and Chris Guccione in favour of Kyrgios and de Minaur, and it looked a poor decision when they lost the first set 6-3.

But, spurred by Kyrgios’ booming serve, they took the next 6-3 before a nailbiting tie-breaker that lasted more than half-an-hour.

Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury had four match points, which were all saved, with Australia finally converting on their fifth match point, sparking jubilant scenes.

“It was unreal. The adrenaline has kind of worn off and I’m exhausted, Kyrgios said. But it was awesome. It was honestly today was one of the best moments in my career, definitely.

Australia’s unbeaten run through the new team tournament has come at a time when the country needs some good news amid catastrophic wildfires that have claimed at least 26 lives since September, killed millions of animals and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

“That was incredible tennis. All three matches today everyone gave 100 percent and left it all out on the court,” said Hewitt. “Really proud of the boys, the way they were able to turn it around... it could have gone either way.”

In the second quarter-final, Karen Khachanov continued his hot run of form and got the ball rolling for Russia by beating an out-of-sorts Guido Pella 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).

The world number 17 has won all four of his matches this season and was in control throughout against the Argentinian, who appeared on the verge on tears in the opening set.

Medvedev, also unbeaten, quickly took charge of his showdown with world number 13 Diego Schwartzman, but lost focus in the second and was slapped with a point penalty for twice smashing his racquet into the umpires chair during an argument with the official.

He regrouped to race through the third set for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win.

“The second set and third one [of Medvedev’s match] was high-class tennis from both sides,” Russian captain Marat Safin said, adding that he was “very proud” of his team. “It was important for him to stay mentally strong, maintain his calm and see what’s going to come.”

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2020