SYDNEY: A euphoric Nick Kyrgios lifted Alex de Minaur over his shoulder and carried him off the court.
Fair enough. The 20-year-old de Minaur spent five hours on court in back-to-back matches for Australia, saving four match points before losing his singles to Dan Evans in a 3-hour, 23-minute encounter, and then saving four match points before winning the deciding doubles in a super tiebreaker against Britain at the ATP Cup.
The 2-1 victory gave host Australia the first spot in the semifinals of the new international team event. The victories are coming at a time when Australia 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.
Residents were being evacuated in towns south of Sydney as the ATP Cup quarterfinal match was being played Thursday.
At Ken Rosewall Arena at Sydney’s Olympic Park, it was like a soccer stadium full of noise and chanting for the home team.
Kyrgios gave Australia the lead with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Cam Norrie in the opening singles. De Minaur lost 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (2) to Evans, meaning the result would hinge on the doubles.
Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt gambled on sending his two singles players back out for the doubles against the established British team of Jamie Murray, a winner of two major doubles titles, and Joe Salisbury. It paid off after a seesawing 3-6, 6-3, 18-16 victory, sealed in a gripping match tiebreaker.
After the match, Kyrgios told the TV audience he would celebrate with a drink.
A little later, in a post-match news conference, he was still in a buoyant mood, clearly thriving in the team environment — and being in the rare position in his career of being the calmer, senior member of the team.
“It was unreal. You know, the adrenaline has kind of worn off and I’m exhausted,” Kyrgios said in a post-match press conference. after that match. “But it was awesome. It was honestly -— today was one of the best moments in my career, definitely.”
De Minaur and Kyrgios, who had 34 doubles matches between them in 2019 — and not once together — were preferred to Chris Guccione and John Peers, who were unbeaten in three matches in the ATP Cup’s group stage.
“Just making it through to the semifinal, the first-ever ATP Cup in that type of fashion, was pretty special,” Kyrgios said. “The whole team was — we genuinely care for each other, and (Guccione, Peers and John Millman) were genuinely just so ecstatic to get through.”
Hewitt said the decision was in the best interests of the team, explaining that he couldn’t leave Kyrgios on the bench because of the way he’d been serving, and he knew de Minaur would respond positively in the doubles.
His hunch paid off. Hewitt, who played doubles with de Minaur at the Brisbane International last year, a week before de Minaur won his first singles title at the elite level by claiming the trophy in Sydney, said the high-pressure moment experience of his two singles players was an advantage.
“Tell you what, after I got called up for the doubles, I had already forgotten about the singles,” de Minaur said. “And with the doubles win, I mean, it’s one of the best days of my life. I’m not going to lie.”
The Australians will play the winner of Friday’s quarterfinal between Belgium and Rafael Nadal’s Spain. Nadal was on the practice courts adjacent to Ken Rosewall Arena practicing after Australia had won the first of the quarterfinals and Russia met Argentina in the second.
Britain captain Tim Henman said he was proud of his team, which did almost everything on court except win it.
Australia needed five match points in the match tiebreaker to clinch it, Britain had four chances.
The one that Murray won’t forget in a long time was at 11-10, when he an almost open court in front of him but somehow sent a backhand long in response to a reflex shot from Kyrgios.
“I missed that shot basically on top of the net, which was ridiculous,” Murray said later. “We hung in and we did well. We just couldn’t quite get the last point.
“But, yeah, that will hurt. Should have never missed that shot, and I’ll probably never miss it again in my career. But today I missed it, and that cost us.”