Australia Ready For Spain Test
Hewitt looks ahead to semi-final tie
After a thrilling quarter-final victory against Great Britain in front of passionate fans in Sydney on Thursday, Australia will battle Spain for a place in the inaugural ATP Cup final on Saturday.
The challenge of replicating performances after a big win can often be difficult for players, but Australia boasts a secret weapon: the Ken Rosewall Arena crowd. Lleyton Hewitt is no stranger to playing with the support and expectation of the nation on his shoulders and the team captain is well aware that crowd support could play a crucial role for his team on Saturday night.
“Obviously it’s going to be a big crowd… We have to use that as much as possible to our advantage,” said Hewitt on Friday. “But we’ve got to reset and start again. The boys obviously can come out and use that energy that they got up from yesterday, but we’re going to focus on a totally different team.”
In his new role as team captain, Hewitt has managed to match his playing style with fearless decision making. In Australia’s 2-1 victory against Great Britain, the 38-year-old replaced his unbeaten doubles team, John Peers and Chris Guccione, for untested singles stars Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios. The bold move paid off for Hewitt, as De Minaur and Kyrgios saved four match points to defeat Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury 18-16 in a Match Tie-break.
De Minaur (2-1) and Kyrgios (3-0) have provided Hewitt with a solid foundation throughout the ATP Cup and the former World No. 1 shared his thoughts on what makes the highest-ranked Australian stars such a powerful combination.
“I think Alex brings out the best in Nick on the practice court,” said Hewitt. “Just Alex’s intensity, the way he goes about it. Nick can’t switch off in a practice set or practice with Alex [and] that’s fantastic. Both of them push each other to get better, as well.
“It’s fantastic to see. Even though Alex has passed Nick in the Rankings, Nick couldn’t be prouder of Alex. He’s like a little brother to him out there, firing him up and wanting him to have success.”
With Team Spain in town, the atmosphere inside Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre looks set to reach new heights. Francisco Roig’s team includes World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut, the highest-ranked No. 2 singles player in the competition.
“It’s going to be a lot of excitement… To have Rafa in Australia and playing these events before the Australian Open is pretty special, especially here in Sydney,” said Hewitt.
Nadal enters the contest with a 5-1 record in ATP Cup matches, but Hewitt is excited to see his No. 1 player test himself against the best player in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“[Rafa is] the No. 1 player in the world at the moment. You’re the underdog going into any match against Rafa, and we all know the intensity and quality he’s going to bring,” said Hewitt.
“He brings it day in and day out. It’s going to be a good test, though, for Alex to step up to the mark against that kind of player. Alex is playing some of the best tennis of his career right now, as well.”
Nadal leads De Minaur 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head series, which includes a straight-sets victory at the Australian Open last year. But the 20-year-old has established himself on the ATP Tour since that meeting, adding two more ATP Tour titles to his collection and reaching his second straight Next Gen ATP Finals championship match.
“[De Minaur is] going to be a big challenge too,” said Nadal. “He’s a great player. Young with a lot of energy.”
How Kyrgios’ Serve Is Dominating The ATP Cup Field
Kyrgios will be keen to earn his ‘little brother’ the opportunity to focus his energy on winning the tie against Nadal. The 24-year-old faces Bautista Agut in the No. 2 singles match, a player who has dropped only 14 games across his four ATP Cup matches.
“[Bautista Agut] is very important. Obviously, Nick is going to have to go out there and focus on the job he’s got at hand,” said Hewitt.
“A lot of the time it can be on Nick’s racquet, though, as well. If he goes out there, plays well, executes and is in the right frame of mind, then I’m going to back him against a lot of No. 2’s.”
If the tie runs to a decisive doubles match, Hewitt will once again have a decision to make. Will he stick with his selected team of Peers and Guccione or bring De Minaur and Kyrgios into the fold as he did on Thursday?
Spain will once again rely on Pablo Carreno Busta and Nadal, the two men who clinched Spain’s place in the semi-finals early on Saturday morning with a Match Tie-break victory against Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.
Bautista Agut, Nadal and Carreno Busta/Nadal. Hewitt and the crowd inside Ken Rosewall Arena know the test Team Australia is about to face. The question is, do they have the answers?