The Australian Davis Cup team, led by Captain Lleyton Hewitt, bowed out of the 2017 competition in the semifinals against Belgium last weekend. It was a strong year for the Australian men, though, winning home ties against the Czech Republic and the United States before falling to the Belgians in Brussels. Led by the often electric Nick Kyrgios, the future seems bright for Australia’s Davis Cup Team. But what can be expected from the present and future of the Australians?
Kyrgios is central to the success of the team. Equipped with a huge serve and forehand, the 22-year-old is capable of beating anybody when he is at his best. Looking into the future, the Australian team has in Kyrgios one of the most intimidating singles players in the competition. We have seen previously players such as Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro singlehandedly lead their nations to Davis Cup glory. Lleyton Hewitt will look to improve the mental side of Kyrgios’ game he will hope that the Canberra native can do the same. Fortunately for Hewitt, Kyrgios has never shown any of the attitude problems that have plagued him on Tour in the Davis Cup. If the Davis Cup should one day rest on the racquet of Nick Kyrgios, it would be unwise to bet against him.
Kokkinakis looks likely to become the number two singles option for Australia in the future. Plagued by injuries since the 2015 season, the 21-year-old was once touted as a future top-ten player but has faded somewhat since then. His struggles recovering after tough matches have led to doubts over his Grand Slam and Davis Cup potential. That being said, the switch to a best-of-three sets format in the Davis Cup from 2018 onwards may help him. There is no doubt that Kokkinakis provides versatility to the team, and he is also able to play doubles when required. He narrowly missed out on selection in the 2017 semifinal against Belgium, his lack of five-set conditioning being a factor in the decision. Going forward, however, he will surely be a key part of Hewitt’s plans.
Peers made his Davis Cup debut last season and boasts a 3-2 record so far. A doubles specialist, Peers won the Australian Open doubles title with partner Henri Kontinen earlier this year. He also previously had success with Britain’s Jamie Murray though they were unable to claim a Slam. At 28 years of age, Peers figures to be a mainstay in this team over the next decade. Solid without being flamboyant, Peers can partner with anyone on the doubles court and have success. He played well with Jordan Thompson last weekend, a more consistent baseline player, and had success previously with the big serve-and-volleying Sam Groth. Without a top doubles player, winning the Davis Cup is nigh on impossible. Fortunately for Australia, there are few better than Peers.
Thompson had an outstanding debut season in the Davis Cup in 2017, winning his first three singles matches and a doubles match before falling in the fifth rubber to Belgium’s Steve Darcis. Thompson set the tone early with upset wins over Jiri Vesely and Jack Sock in Australia’s opening two ties and became popular among teammates thanks to his attitude and work ethic. Thompson is excellent over five sets, and if he can improve on his return of serve and depth of shot, could be a big match player for Australia. Looking into 2018, a healthy Thanasi Kokkinakis will probably edge him out for the number two singles position, but he should at least find himself called upon for doubles.
Millman, an Australian fan-favourite, made his Davis Cup debut against Belgium last weekend, losing his only match in four sets to David Goffin. Millman gave himself a chance to go up two sets to love before the class of Goffin began to tell. He did, however, make Goffin work for every point, an invaluable trait to have in Davis Cup play. Millman also created history at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning his opening match over Ricardis Berankis 6-0 6-0, the first male player to do so. Millman has struggled throughout his career to remain healthy, which could limit his Davis Cup participation. But he has had some terrific results, particularly in Australia. Ultimately though, unless he is able to become a more offensive focused player he will probably struggle to retain his position in Australia’s Davis Cup team.
Groth, who boasts a 5-7 career Davis Cup record, has struggled for form recently. His singles ranking has slipped down to #173, down from a career high of #53. Groth’s Davis Cup singles career is almost certainly over thanks to a combination of the emergence of Jordan Thompson and Thanasi Kokkinakis, and his own struggles. This spells trouble for his doubles participation, also. Having both Groth and Peers in the team would leave Australia extremely restricted in terms of the reverse singles rubbers played on Day 3, especially on a clay or hard court. It would seem Groth’s only Davis Cup hope is a home tie on grass, with injuries forcing Kyrgios, Kokkinakis or Thompson out of the team. Whilst Australians will be forever grateful for his 2015 quarterfinal doubles and singles wins over Kazakhstan, it’s hard to see how much more he can give the team going forward.
Bernard Tomic’s Davis Cup career is almost certainly over. Having made comments suggesting he has no interest in playing Davis Cup for Australia it’s hard to see why Hewitt would pick him. Instead he will certainly look to reward players such as Millman and Thompson who are honoured to represent their country. Tomic has a career 17-4 Davis Cup record and was part of the 2015 team which made the semifinals. In truth, Tomic’s talent seems to be wasting away anyway. Tomic’s teenaged run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon was six years ago, and he hasn’t really threatened a repeat since.
Alex De Minaur
De Minaur, 18, has travelled with the team as a hitting partner throughout the 2017 competition. He became more widely known when in January he defeated Gerald Melzer in the opening round of the Australian Open in a five-set classic before falling to American Sam Querrey. De Minaur is a consistent baseliner, not dissimilar to his idol Lleyton Hewitt, and is at his best on clay. Greater physicality will serve him well as he fine tunes his body to cope with the week in, week out rigours of the ATP Tour. Fortunately, that is something that should come as he ages. He has shown great maturity, both in tennis and in life, throughout his young career. In three or four years he should be in the conversation for a Davis Cup debut.
Similar to De Minaur, Popyrin is a young clay courter who has travelled with the team in 2017 as a hitting partner. Popyrin won the junior French Open title earlier this year and has a current singles ranking of 764th in the world. He is yet to play a tour-level match, however, so how good he could become is as yet unclear. But he is being monitored closely by Tennis Australia and his emergence would provide Australian tennis with a much-needed clay courter. That would be an invaluable asset in Davis Cup play, particularly if Europe continues to dominate the World Group.
Santillan, currently ranked 163rd in the world, is another young player on the radar of Tennis Australia. Aged 20, Santillan stands at 5’11, and has a career 2-4 record on the ATP World Tour. He has had a terrific season in 2017, most recently falling in the final round of qualifying at the US Open. Similarly to De Minaur and Popyrin, he is likely a few years away from being considered for a Davis Cup tie. But should he continue to improve, he will certainly be considered for a Davis Cup debut.
The future is undoubtedly bright for Australia. Bolstered by the elite talent of Peers and Kyrgios, the team also possesses strength in depth and an inspirational captain whose experience and knowledge is invaluable. They missed out on an opportunity to return to the final this year, but expect to see the team contending for the Cup in years to come.
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